Posted by: morgan1965 | June 16, 2018

The Silence Of Eternity Interpreted By Love

The hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” [The UM Hymnal, #358] has always been a meaningful hymn to me. Recently, while reading the verses, I was drawn to the phrase, “The silence of eternity interpreted by love.” I have been pondering this phrase over the years, so I decided to spend a bit of time grappling with its meaning.

This particular phrase is couched in the third verse of the hymn:

“O sabbath rest by Galilee,

O calm of hills above,

Where Jesus knelt to share with thee

The silence of eternity,

Interpreted by love!”

The hymn is a dynamic prayer hymn where God is acknowledged as the creator of humankind.

Let’s first take a look at the hymn’s author, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892). Whittier was a poet who did not consider himself to be a hymnist. As a Quaker, his religion influenced his life and his writing. He became a strong advocate of the abolition of slavery. He eventually became Secretary of the American Anti-Slavery Society. The Quakers, of course, were at the center of the abolitionist movement.

It was a Quaker practice to worship God in silent meditation. This was in contrast to the emotionalism connected with the Evangelical movement and the associated revivalism. In the hymn he says, “Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive our foolish ways.” This is a not so subtle knock on emotionalism in worship. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that “some folk have more religion in their hands and their feet than they have in their heads and hearts.”

The hymn celebrates several qualities of faithful devotion and piety – “deeper reverence,” “purer lives,” and “simple trust.” Whittier advocated for simplicity and purity in worship. The hymn celebrates the virtue of silence and humility in the presence of God. Such a posture will enable the one praying to discern God’s will for that moment in their life.

The key phrase for me is the notion that the “silence of eternity” can be “interpreted by love.” What kind of love is this? Paul described this love when he said: “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things; believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues they will cease, as for knowledge, it will come to an end.” (I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Can you picture Jesus in a quiet place, appreciating the silence that surrounds him? In our private devotional life, if not in our churches, we have the opportunity to engage in the silence that is available to us by going to a quiet place and shutting out all the distracting sounds. Such a practice could become a rich spiritual discipline.

Our daily living and being can be transformed by “the silence of eternity interpreted by love.” It was that way for Jesus. It was that way for Martin Luther King, Jr. It can be that way for you and me too.

Thing about it! “Jesus loves me.”

Pray about it!! “For the Bible tells me so.”

Experience it!!! “This I know.”





  1. This post helpfully clarifies an important Christian conception of love. But I’m still left wondering what it means to Interpret anything, including eternity, by its means. Why: interpret? And: what is it to ‘interpret eternity’? It’s such a gorgeous and evocative phrase: ‘interpreted by love’. What comes to my mind, now, is the idea that something’s meaning may only fully become available to us when we approach it lovingly or see it through a loving lens. For example, I can readily imagine what could be meant by talk of interpreting people by love – perhaps it is only when I see them lovingly, see what a loving gaze will reveal of them, that I grasp them in the heart of their humanity. But: eternity?

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