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Posts Tagged ‘the cross’

I have always struggled with the word “propitiation.”  In Awana’s elementary-school books was included 1 John 4:10, an excellent verse I don’t regret memorizing.  All of my friends at the time struggled with the pronunciation of the dauntingly long word.  A few years’ practice rendered us able to speak the word, and Awana supplied a definition sufficient for rudimentary comprehension.  I believe their paraphrase was “the payment Christ made for my sins.”  At about the same time, I attended my parents’ Sunday morning Bible study at which the teacher was discussing the concept of propitiation.  He described it as “the mercy-seat of Christ, through which man has access to God.”  To a fifth grader the two definitions were not nearly similar enough to be joined.  I understand the word has to do with redemption, with sacrifice and salvation.  For years that has had to get me by.

The word comes up, you know, a grating little piece of ignorance: a something I cannot understand no matter how hard I try or what sources I reference.  Searching for the Greek word in Strong’s Concordance is not all that helpful, adding nothing to my understanding of the English word.  So I read the verses that say “propitiation,” pretend to understand while wondering why I don’t.

And last week it happened.  I wasn’t even reading very closely.  A page was open, and my eyes lit on the word “propitiate,” the verb form of “propitiation.”  All at once I saw the root word, sitting right there, disguised by the ‘y’ converted to an ‘i’: pity.  A series of clicks could be heard in my brain as the meanings fell into place.  Pity is strongly associated with mercy.  Add the prefix, “pro,” and you have something that advances or makes the way for active mercy, for pity. The substitutionary suffering Christ endured for my sin was what made forgiveness possible before a just God.  Jesus is the living way by which we enter the holy of holies, where the mercy seat used to be in the Temple.

(It just so happens that, when I went to look up the etymology of propitiate and of pity, the dictionarians have not noted a connection, but associate the word “pity” more with “piety,” or duty than with “propitiate.”  Nevertheless, I feel I have much better grasped the meaning of propitiation, and still wonder whether the two words share roots.)

To God be all glory,

Lisa of Longbourn

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