608) A Few Definitions

From Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC, by American Author and Presbyterian Pastor,Frederick Buechner (1926- ), Harper and Row Publishers, 1973.


AGNOSTIC:  An agnostic is somebody who doesn’t know for sure whether there is really a God.  That is some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time.

ANGER:  Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun.  To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back– in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.  The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself.  The skeleton at the feast is you.

AVARICE:  Avarice (greed) is based on the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have.  The remark of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35) is based on the human truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are.  It is not just for the sake of other people that Jesus tells us to give rather than get, but for our own sakes too.

BREAD:  Man does not live by bread alone, but he also does not live long without it.  To eat is to acknowledge our dependence– both on food and on each other.  It also reminds us of other kinds of emptiness that not even the Blue Plate Special can touch.

CONFESSION:  To confess your sins to God is not to tell God anything God doesn’t already know. Until you confess them, however, they are the abyss between you. When you confess them, they become the Golden Gate Bridge.

COMPASSION:  Compassion is the capacity for feeling what it’s like to live inside somebody else’s skin.  It is the knowledge that there can never be any peace and joy for me until there is peace and joy finally for you too.

DOUBT:  Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep.  Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.  They keep it awake and moving.

LUST:  Lust is the craving for salt of a man who is dying of thirst.

POVERTY:  In a sense we are all hungry and in need, but most of us don’t recognize it.  With plenty to eat in the freezer, with a roof over our heads and a car in the garage, we assume that the empty feeling inside must be just a case of the blues that can be cured with a weekend in the country or an extra martini at lunch, or the purchase of a new TV.  The poor, on the other hand, are under no such delusion.  When Jesus says, “Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28), the poor stand a better chance than most of knowing what he’s talking about and knowing that he’s talking to them.  In desperation they may even be willing to consider the possibility of accepting his offer.  This is perhaps why Jesus on several occasions called them peculiarly blessed.  

RICHES:  The trouble with being rich is that since you can solve with your checkbook virtually all the practical problems that bedevil ordinary people, you are left in your leisure with nothing but the great human problems to contend with: how to be happy, how to love and be loved, how to find meaning and purpose in life.  In desperation, the rich are continually tempted to believe that they can solve these problems too with their checkbooks, which is presumably what led Jesus to remark one day that for a rich man to get to heaven is about as easy as for a Cadillac to get through a revolving door.


Acts 20:35  —  (Paul said), “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

Matthew 11:28  —  (Jesus said), “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

Mark 10:25  —  (Jesus said), “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”


Lord, catch us off guard today.  Surprise us with some moment of beauty or pain so that for at least a moment we may be startled into seeing that you are with us here in all your splendor, always and everywhere, barely hidden, beneath, beyond, within this life we breathe.  Amen.  –Frederick Buechner