Wednesday, February 22, 2017

“God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable”

“God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable” and variations of this often make the rounds of Christian quotes. A few people may even think it is in the Bible. The Dictionary of Christianese tells us “It wasn’t until 1987 that someone applied this catchy expression to the work of God and the work of the church.” The first religious use they found was in Religion and Republic: The American Circumstance (Martin E. Marty, Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1987, p. 82). The use there was not yet reduced to the pithy quote, but part of his description of two roles of the church -- “priestly” and “prophetic.” The priestly “comforts the afflicted,” and the prophetic “afflicts the comfortable.”

Before appropriated by Marty, it was (and is still yet) an expression used by journalists to describe their perceived role -- “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

The origin of the quote goes back to the complaint of a fictional Irish bartender in Observations by Mr. Dooley (Finley Peter Dunne, New York, NY: R. H. Russell, 1902, p. 240). He observed:
“Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.”
The newspapers appropriated a complaint against them to serve themselves, and then Martin Marty appropriated it for the Lord’s service!

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