Editing out Jesus’ “imperfect” emotions

In my post yesterday, we saw how Abbot John Chapman describes how Jesus’ agony in the garden – his “hating suffering, and feeling it unbearable” – is part of Jesus’ perfection, and hence the same weakness and helplessness are part of ours also.

Christians have not always been comfortable with this notion, as is well illustrated by how hymnal editors have treated James Edmeston’s 1821 hymn, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us. The second verse of this hymn reads as follows:

Saviour, breathe forgiveness o’er us;
All our weakness Thou dost know;
Thou didst tread this earth before us,
Thou didst feel its keenest woe;
Lone and dreary, faint and weary,
Through the desert Thou didst go.

The final two lines – with their implication that Jesus’ experience in the desert was not a model of Victorious Christian Living – have proven too much for many subsequent hymnals. The version here, for example, has the following:

yet unfearing, persevering,
to thy passion thou didst go.

Which knocks the rough edges off a bit – gets rid of those “imperfect” emotions which Edmeston blasphemously ascribes to Jesus. Much more comfortable all round. But that’s still marginally better than the monstrosity which modern hymnals seem to prefer:

tempted, taunted, yet undaunted,
through the desert thou didst go.

Which is simply awful (and in which I detect the hand of the Campaign Against Poetry – who have never had any problem with rhyme, as such).

Edmeston got it right in the first place, as I’m sure Abbot Chapman would agree. Jesus’ suffering was real suffering, and as such included the mental and emotional anguish – the dauntedness – which (in ourselves) we often misinterpret as a sign of unbelief.

Lone and dreary, faint and weary,
Through the desert Thou didst go.

And hence so can we.

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One Response to Editing out Jesus’ “imperfect” emotions

  1. Rick Ritchie says:

    Funny. In the 19th century, the more realistic lyrics were seen as fit even for the children for whom they were written. Now we need to soften them even for an audience of mostly adults.

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