Stephen Fry, the English actor, author and game show host once disparaged the “grammar Nazis” who felt it necessary to enforce all the rules of language but who had forgotten, or just didn’t care, about the joy of language. Criticizing them he said, “Do they bubble and froth and slobber cream with joy at language? Do they ever let the tripping of the tips of their tongues against the tops of their teeth transport them to giddy, euphoric bliss? Do they ever yoke impossible words together for the sound-sex of it? Do they use language to seduce, charm, excite, please, affirm and tickle those they talk to? Do they? I doubt it. They’re too farting busy sneering at a greengrocer’s less than perfect use of the apostrophe. Well, sod them to Hades.”
I appreciate a good turn of phrase, a witticism or munificent use of language (munificence means, “lavishly generous”). And I lament that the use of uncommon or toponymic adjectives is met with disdain or perceived elitism. Why am I expected to say, for example on a date, “You look beautiful tonight” instead of something more preferable like, “Your refulgence besots me with engendered approbation?” Yet this little ditty of mine, a vocal amuse-bouche, a deliciously linguistic treat to pollinate the ear and flutter the heart, fails each time to seduce or wheedle my lovely companion. I am, in short, hopelessly inauspicious, a perceived pedant with an acute case of logorrhea.
And so (you’ll forgive me I hope) when I share with you a new word I happened to come across recently. While reading The Telegraph (UK) I came across an article written by former London mayor (and oftentimes word-smith) Boris Johnson. He said, “We have been banjaxed by the financial crisis.” Banjaxed? With the delight of a has-been artist looking to restart his career with access to Prince’s secret vault of sultry songs, I leapt to the online dictionary to discover the riches that lie behind the salacious adjective, banjaxed. And what did I find? This: “damage, ruin, smash.” “Yes!” I cried with a delight that far outweighed the importance of the discovery, “It fits! Banjaxed sounds like what it means!” Of course I proceeded to think of all the ways the word could be implemented into my daily vocabulary. “Bruce, what happened to your bookcase?” “Ah, yes, unfortunately it was banjaxed by a ravenous group of confirmands”, “Bruce, what are you listening to?” “Oh, only a banjoist banjaxing a ballad on the banjo.” “Bruce, how did your date go?” “Sadly, my comment on her appearance banjaxed the night.” In fact, I think if I were to attempt a translation of the bible myself (not likely to ever happen) I would translate Genesis 3:15, the protoevangelion (first mention of the Gospel) as, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall banjax your head, and you shall banjax his heel.” Doesn’t that just sound better? Shakespeare and good King James are circumambulating in their graves…
Sometimes the joy of learning a new word is that it gives you a new framework to think about things. Banjaxed reminded me that without Christ I’d be ruined. And that’s not an overstatement or dramatic flourish.
Christ is God. He is the source and giver of all life. He is the wisdom that holds the universe together and the eternal, only-begotten Son of God. Through him all things were made for us, and for our salvation. All things were made for us.
This doesn’t seem right. Shouldn’t all things be made for him? It is the great mystery that God who deserves all praise and glory should allow his creation to delight. Joy is at the center of Christian life, of all life, because God is a God of joy. In so much as he is the Suffering Servant, it is only for our sake he enters into our darkness and brokenness. Through his suffering we are healed of our own.
The real problem of sin is that it seeks to be independent of this very God. Sin says, “my will be done” which is another way of saying, “I am autonomous, I am my own. I am free and unfettered from God’s rule, reign and right.” Sin seeks flourishing apart from God; it is like heat asking to exist apart from flame or light apart from a source.
That is why St. Augustine believed that death was not so much a decision God made as a response to sin, but the only response that could be given to sin. “The wages of sin is death…(Rom. 6:3)” Augustine argued that death was the natural consequence of sin since independence from God leads to creation’s unmaking. Separated from the creator, seeking life and flourishing apart from God’s closeness, sin’s separation from the Source of Life simply allowed life to degenerate. Like a car that runs out of gas but still has some inertia before it slows to a halt, life just fizzles out when separated from God. Life is literally banjaxed. Life needs God to live and flourish.
That is why Christ does the impossible and unthinkable and breaks the void of separation between light and darkness and enters into our world (John chapter 1). Joy becomes sadness, King becomes Servant, Eternal becomes finite, Life becomes death, Sinless become sin.
Christ took on our sin-caused-sadness that we might experience the Triune joy of God. Justification, the act of salvation, made this possible because it brings God and man together again. But more than this, justification declares God better than we thought, more gracious than we could imagine and on our side. The God who we sought to be free of has freed us of our independence. Justification is “Good News” news that is inherently joyful and can brings the very joy it proclaims.
So sin banjaxed me. But Christ rescued me. And we are left with a theology of joy in Christ. In great series of reversals, Christ takes our places and gifts us his own Kingdom. Perhaps no quote better encapsulates the irony and grandeur than this one from a sermon St. Augustine gave about the incarnation. It has always moved me, and remains a favorite of mine. Using the titles for Christ, it shows the extent to which Christ went for our salvation. And it leaves me banjaxed with joy:
“Man’s MAKER was made man that He, RULER OF THE STARS, might nurse at His mother’s breast;
that the BREAD might hunger,
the FOUNTAIN thirst,
the LIGHT sleep,
the WAY be tired on its journey;
that TRUTH might be accused of false witnesses,
the TEACHER be beaten with whips,
the FOUNDATION be suspended on wood;
that STRENGTH might grow weak;
that the HEALER might be wounded;
that LIFE might die.”
Bruce Hillman is Lead Pastor at Hillside Lutheran Brethren Church (www.hillsidelbc.org) in Succasunna New Jersey. He Holds a BA in History and Political Science from Quinnipiac University, (Hamden, CT), an MDiv. from the Lutheran Brethren Seminary (Fergus Falls, MN) and an STM in Patristics from Drew University (Madison, NJ); his research involves Augustinian studies and Early Christianity. He is former pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, Henning MN. He is co-founder of Fifth Act Church Planting, having served on their board (www.fifthactchurchplanting.com) Bruce enjoys cooking, reading, all things British, exploring the world of wine, and conversations with good friends.