Philology and Phenomenology

2006 is done, 2007 is upon me.

A friend and I were talking this weekend about the word “glad” and the concept of Christian hope, and the events of Friday morning compelled me to meditate further on the subject.


On the way to the GRE testing centre, I was listening to the local Christian radio station. (“safe and fun for the whole family” isn't usually the best thing, but sometimes it's a good thing.) The morning DJ quoted a very providential proverb: “The difference between despair and hope is a good 'thank you Jesus!'”

Perhaps this can be expressed mathematically:

Hope – Despair = ”Thank you Jesus!”


Despair + “Thank you Jesus!” = Hope.

In any case, the DJ's point hit the mark. I have hope because of Christ, and when I am thankful for his grace and mercy and goodness I can move beyond despair.

I'm glad to be done with the GRE, whatever the results (which could have been a lot better.) I'm glad that He has given me the opportunity to continue my academic career, despite the frustration that accompanies all of this running around in circles. I'm glad that I had time over Christmas to really talk with my brother and with Darrel, even though it's hard to continue being apart from family and the sense of calling I had when I set aside those two years for working in Killam.

I'm glad because God is good.

So, what does glad actually mean? Do any of those things actually indicate something other than gladness?

The Philologist, of course, goes to the OED. I don't happen to have a copy of the OED in my book bag, and the library is closed. Merriam-Webster's Collegiate says that “glad” is a word that primarily describes the experience of various good emotions. Another meaning is the state of satisfaction or gratefulness. The last definition which adds to my understanding of the term is 3 b: “causing happiness and joy <[Glad] tidings>.”

For a philologist, each of these definitions can stand alone in a specific context without requiring an interaction. It is important to understand the origin of the word (the Old English word for “shining”) and to follow the various changes in usage over the course of 800 years, but as a phenomenologist I can't be satisfied with that disparity in the different senses of the word. There must be some sort of underlying phenomenon here, some universal experience that is being described by each use of the word “glad.” My task, then, is to work out the similarities between the examples, and to carve away everything that's unnecessary. (I'm indebted here to Dr. Peet's lectures on phenomenology in contemporary psychology.)

All of my statements above about being glad are true according to the first definition; they are words of gladness. “I am glad.” the second definition puts a finer edge on the first so that it means “I am experiencing [satisfaction or fulfilment of my purpose]” or perhaps “I am experiencing [gratefulness toward God for a sense of satisfaction].” A complete analysis doesn't necessarily have to include (or reject) the third definition: It seems to me that this last sense could indicate some power of influence that is intrinsic to gladness (as a sort of contagion), but it might simply indicate that good reports are a vehicle through which gladness can be induced.

Certainly common usage has made “glad” work in other ways, but I think the central phenomenon is indeed an experience of the state of fulfilment.


What, then, is the implication of this meaning for gladness? What is a glad Christian really glad about? I must admit that my friend is partly correct when she tells me that our hope (as children of God) is in Christ rather than our circumstances: “remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in sight of our God and Father.” Faith (the only true foundation for hope) is certainly in him alone, but what is the hope itself? Hope is certainly not gladness, but I think that they are related concepts: hope looks to gladness. Paul talks of different kinds of hope, the better in God's promises of grace rather than law: “therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, that promise might be sure to those . . . who are of the faith of Abraham . . . who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken.” In Joshua 2:18, 21; Rahab is instructed to hang a scarlet thread outside her window, but that thread is called a tiqvah, which is also the Hebrew word used for hope.

I talked with Erwin about this stuff on Sunday, and he reminded me that Christ came to lead us to lives oriented toward "the Kingdom of Heaven.” My gladness, my satisfaction, my completion, is not in the self-improvement of Christian self-help, but in The Kingdom; my hope must therefore be for the Kingdom and not for my own benefit.

Thus, I began my year with a devotional reading from the Siddur for Messianic Jews that an old Jewish scholar once gave to me. (After all, you're not really an academic theologian until you apply things you learn from old Jewish scholars.) The Lechah Dodi is a song expressing the gladness of Sabbath, the day of completion and fulfilment in creation: “Come beloved friend to meet the bride / the presence of shabbat we receive. . . . And we shall rejoice and we shall be glad. [v'nageelah.] ” Likewise Ps. 118:24; “This the day made adonai. We will be glad [Nagee Lah] and rejoice in it.”

So, I am glad that God has given me all that I have; I hope for the days to come when he will give me more. I am glad that Christ died to allow for the grace of my friendship with and service to Him; I hope for the days when I will be able to lead my children toward their own understanding of that gladness. (If the purpose of life is to give thanks to God and bring greater glory to his name, then fatherhood is the greatest expression of that I'll ever be able to make). I am glad that I can be a scholar and learn about truth, beauty, and glory; I hope for a chance to teach those things to future students of English literature.

Then again, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I've used the wrong dictionary and looked at the wrong passages. What do you, my faithful readers and polling sample, think? Have I missed some important aspect of the phenomenon of gladness and Christian hope?

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