Bringing Heaven Down To Earth

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Monday, November 28, 2005

The Eschatology of a Preposition in "Now Thank We All Our God"

At Thanksgiving chapel last week, we sang, appropriately enough, "Now Thank We All Our God."

In verse 2, we sang, according to the words on the overhead:

"and free us from all ills, in this world and the next"

I thought the line was supposed to end with "IN the next." That's a weighty eschatological preposition; it clarifies that we do not seek immunity from all ills in this current, broken world, but expect perfect bliss only in the next world, on the new earth. (It also gets around the question of why ills would exist in the next life to be delivered from.)

The latest edition of The Psalter Hymnal does indeed read "IN the next." But when we sang the hymn in church yesterday, I listened hard and noticed that, even with this text in front of them, most of the congregation sang "AND the next." Meanwhile, has "and the next."

So I asked my colleague Emily Brink for her perspective on the eschatology of this preposition (or conjuction, in the case of "and"). Emily doesn't deal with this in the Psalter Hymnal Handbook she co-edited, but she does have the inside scoop on this:

Good question. The PsH version reflects some intense discussion on the committee that worked on the revision. We wondered what ills in the next world there could possibly be? So we changed the original translation by Catherine Winkworth, though many people who grew up with her original (in previous editions of the PsH as well) often sing the original by heart. You can find the original German at

The German line is "Und uns aus aller Not Erlösen hier und dort." My dad says that translates literally as "and us from all need/want/trouble/danger, redeem/free here and there" ("in this world and the next"). So the "and" is original to the German, but I'm not sure how figurative/eschatological the "there" of "dort" is.

Meanwhile, I'll keep singing "in" -- I know better than to expect "and."


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