My Greek studies have for the past week had me brooding over a mood of language known as the subjunctive.
“Subjunctive,” you ask? Yes, please hang with me. I’m not going to give you (too much of) a grammar lesson, but I am going to share with you something the Lord has stirred in my heart because of a grammar lesson.
Sweetheart, if the heavens can declare the glory of God and the skies can proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1), a grammar lesson can point to his truth too!
Studying the subjunctive mood highlights the importance of purpose.
Of course, purpose matters a great deal. Every parent knows how much time they spend fielding their children’s “why” questions from the toddler years onward.
“It’s time to get our coats on.”
“Because we have to go to the store.” "Why?” “Because we need to buy more food.”
“Why?” You know where this goes…and that it never ends!
One of the most important matters in teaching children to write is to help them consider purpose. We teach them to do things like make “purpose statements” in the center of a web organizer and tie all the rest of their ideas to it. We emphasize the importance of clearly stating the purpose of their ideas in each thesis they craft and at the top of each paragraph they write.
Good parents also realize they will only make so much headway in teaching their children to be healthy, productive, successful adults if they never teach them the purpose behind their morals, manners, and methods. A kid has got to know why they do what they do. The need for answering those “why” questions never really goes away, does it? We see the need for purpose manifest in book titles like Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People? by David Arnold, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? by Raj Raghunathan, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou, and one of my favorites books on how to teach reading phonetically (homeschool moms and classroom teachers take note): Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolf Flesch.
Famed TED Talk presenter Simon Sinek garnered a mere 53+ million views when he declared in one of the most popular TED videos of all time that effective leaders must start with the question “Why?” if they hope to inspire others to action.
Then there’s that ever-so-famous little book which had sold more than 50 million copies and had been translated into more than 85 languages by 2020, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. All of these things attempt to feed the human craving to know why.
King Solomon rightly observed in Ecclesiastes 3:1,
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.”
We are wise to take note, but many are still sitting with Solomon back in Ecclesiastes 1 wondering if everything is actually meaningless — “utterly meaningless” (vs. 2) — “a chasing after the wind” (vs. 14), or if there’s purpose in all the toil and time and traditions and trouble.
What’s the purpose in it all?
And that brings me back to the subjunctive. One of the key functions of the subjunctive mood is to express purpose. In my last post, I highlighted the fact that according to God's perfect fatherly wisdom, a good father does not purpose to exasperate his children. In this one, I’m going to show you what he does purpose, I’ll compare it against what the enemy purposes — and you’re going to see that there really is a good purpose in it all.
John 10:10 reads,
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
This scripture obviously screams purpose. Why does the thief come? “To steal and kill and destroy.” Why has Jesus come? "That they may have life, and have it to the full.”
But did you know that even the very mood in which these verbs are written in the original Greek screams purpose? They sure do!
I know this is going to seem like Greek to most of you (and you would be correct!), but here’s what it says:
“ὁ κλέπτης οὐκ ἔρχεται εἰ μὴ ἵνα κλέψῃ καὶ θύσῃ καὶ ἀπολέσῃ· ἐγὼ ἦλθον ἵνα ζωὴν ἔχωσιν καὶ περισσὸν ἔχωσιν.”
See that tiny little word “ἵνα?” It’s the seventh word in, and then it appears again another eight words later. It means “in order that; that; so that,” it indicates that verbs in the subjunctive mood are about to follow, and that those words will speak to this issue of purpose. John 10:10 is no exception.
The words “κλέψῃ,” “θύσῃ,” and “ἀπολέσῃ” all describe the purpose of “ὁ κλέπτης” (pronounced “kleptēs” [think: klepto or kleptomaniac]), meaning “the thief.” That evil thief comes for three reasons: to steal, to kill, and to destroy. It’s his whole game, and he doesn’t have another. However, Jesus speaks here that he has a purpose — he has a reason — and it’s nothing like that of the thief. He has come for two desired, intended, and indeed wholly achievable outcomes: ἵνα (that) “ζωὴν ἔχωσιν” and “περισσὸν ἔχωσιν” — “that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
To the person who feels like they’re drowning in troubles, take a deep breath. That’s right, deep breath in…Let it out…It’s going to be okay! Yes, your troubles may make everything feel a bit chaotic. Or a lot chaotic. You may have wondered how anything good could come out of what you’re facing at the moment, but God is not setting out to destroy you; that’s not his business. He has purposed that you would have life, and have it to the full!
That little word “ἵνα” also tells us something important about ourselves.
You see, “ἵνα” alerts readers that they’re about to see a dependent clause.
Dependent clause. You may or may not remember dependent clauses from your English classes growing up, but it’s important to know this: they cannot stand alone.
Dependent clauses are always dependent on the main idea (or main purpose) of the sentence which can stand alone. That’s why those main ideas exist in something called an “independent clause.” They’re not leaning on anything. With a subject and verb (and no conditions), they’re strong all by themselves.
The stand-alone part of John 10:10 is precisely this: that Jesus has come.
He has! It’s an unchangeable fact! In a glorious fulfillment of prophecy, Jesus really is 'God with us.’ He has come! To us! He looked down upon broken humanity, saw our utter inability to stand alone, and did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (Philippians 2:6), but wrapped himself in human flesh and came to us.
In the great scheme of things, we are the dependents. We can’t stand alone. We must depend upon Christ for all that he offers, and all that offers is no small thing: "that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Praise be to God!
I know what it is to know that I can’t stand on my own.
I know what it is to face trials so big I can’t see the full scope of their height or depth, and to feel the terror of the imperceptibility of it all. But I don’t have to lean on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:5), stand in my own armor (Ephesians 6:13-17), or crumble before difficulty (2 Corinthians 4:8-10). Rather, I can depend with complete assurance on my God who has come, and has come for my good.
You know, this whole idea of “cultivating giants” is about comparing the process of discipleship to the idea of becoming like strong trees that flourish and remain fruitful far into the future, growing tall and strong despite the seasons, and becoming more beautiful and majestic with time.
It’s a good analogy to our Christian walk, one even God employed in scripture (see Psalm 1:3 and Jeremiah 17:8). It also works when we consider our own dependency, no matter how young and susceptible we may feel or how mature we may become. No tree can truly stand alone. Sure, it may be the only one in the field, but it is dependent on the systems for sustenance provided by its Creator. Apart from water, good soil, sunlight, and a healthy DNA (among other things), giant-hood is impossible. So it goes for us. So keep depending, and keep trusting in the good purposes of the good God who has come for us.
To God be the glory!