An occasional blog by Robin Turpin
July 22, 2023
Witchcraft. It brings to mind Halloween parties, trick or treating and the Sanderson Sisters. King James I of England was absolutely obsessed with witches and the black arts, but not from a Disney-movie perspective. He absolutely hated witches. He even wrote a book on the subject, “Daemonologie”, and had a particular enjoyment in personally supervising the torture of women accused of witchcraft. His religious policy consisted of asserting the supreme authority and divine right of Kings and suppressing anyone who objected*. When he commissioned a new version of the Bible in 1604, he gave his writing team very specific instructions; in particular to address the threat of witchcraft at every possible opportunity. As a result, there are a mind-boggling 77 refences to witches and sorcery in the King James version (I looked it up!). King James’ obsession with witchcraft caused widespread panic across Europe and the American colonies, resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocents. Despite all this silliness, the King James Version is the Bible of my childhood, and it really does contain some beautiful verse and imagery. But that doesn’t make the translation correct in all things. Because honestly, I don’t remember the last time I had to worry about being enchanted by a witch.
In Pastor Sandy’s message this week, she discussed problems with the cliché “Everything Happens for a Reason”. Wait . . . . back up a minute . . . there is a problem with saying “Everything Happens for a Reason”? This is a phrase that I have, quite frankly, relied on heavily to provide comfort to myself as well as to others in times of trouble. I need more information here, please. Pastor Sandy said that scholars think this cliché originated with the King James translation of Romans 8:28; “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God.” This can be interpreted that all things – both good and bad --- happen for a reason. Thus, according to Biblical experts, this is the origin for popular saying I have been so dependent on. Thanks to the guy who liked to torture women to get them to confess to being witches. Ouch.
The good news is that in the past 400 years biblical scholars have revisited the original Greek Bible and reinterpreted some critical passages. And the New International Version offers a different translation of the same phrase; “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”. In other words, no matter what happens -- good or bad -- God is at work to bring about good. God isn’t messing about in our lives creating happiness, sorrow, tragedy, love, pain etc. (for reasons unknowable to us), but instead is there beside us when these things happen.
Gosh . . . . . that is really different. Pastor Sandy put it bluntly when she said that the King James version seems to imply that God is a capricious, finicky deity who has the power to control everything (good and bad) but sometimes chooses not to. Sounds more like a Jacobean-era King who believes in his divine right to rule than a loving God . . . . . . oh wait! Isn’t that who commissioned the rewriting of the Bible? Exactly. In contrast, the New International version says simply that regardless of what is happening, God is always with us, working for good. And that’s actually pretty cool.
But, if I can’t rely on my standard words of comfort “Everything Happens for a Reason” – what am I supposed to say when something awful happens? How am I supposed to comfort others, or even myself, when I don’t understand tragic events? Pastor Sandy offered some wonderful words of wisdom on this. She suggests we choose to worship a God who works for the good in all things, even if we can’t make sense of them. Whether during tornadoes and floods, random acts of violence, the death of a child or simply when we mess up, God is with us. She said sometimes the best thing we can do to help others in pain is to just sit with them and listen. We may not need to say anything at all, but if we do, perhaps we can remind them that through it all, God is with us. And when you think about it, isn’t that what God is doing? Now that’s what I call magic.
*This isn’t to imply that James I was a tyrant, he actually was a good King in a number of ways; he just had very strong opinions on religion and witchcraft.