“O Jesus” and “Oh, Jesus”: A World of Difference

[Dedicated to For Christ’s Sake A Cappella]

Flip through a hymnal and you’ll see “O Lord” throughout its pages. Take a look at a typical evangelical church’s PowerPoint slides and you’re more likely to see “Oh, Lord”, with or without the comma. What’s the difference? Is it merely the differing conventions of the times?

“Oh” ≠ “O”

Let’s consider the ways we use “oh”. Most often, this word represents an exclamation expressing surprise or agitation or sensuous ecstasy. In a school lunchroom it may serve to call attention to whoever was clumsy and dropped the contents of his tray onto the floor. Any way you look at it, it serves no grammatical function, always standing apart from the structure of any sentence, detached syntactically from other words. What’s my point? Let’s consider the word “O”.

In contrast, “O”, however teenagers may misspell “oh” in instant messaging online, serves an entirely different purpose: we use it in direct invocation, whether to a person or in apostrophe to an impersonal entity (“O slanderous world!”) or to an abstract idea (“O beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountains’ majesties above the fruited plain, America, America!”).

What the Difference Means

Perhaps the replacement is simply because many people aren’t carefully taught to distinguish the two in spelling. Perhaps, however, it is equally true that society no longer distinguishes even the concepts the two refer to. If so, is it a sign of a society where calling upon someone’s name with such emotional force is nothing more than unloading upon the one invoked an unspecified current of uncritically affirmed sentiment, which one does only to demand cheap approval? Sadly, I think this is how we treat friends now.

Maybe not. Maybe we emote with no call to anything, not even a request for a friend’s ear, because we are so disconnected, indeed so disembodied, from society that we always view ourselves as independent, self-made individuals who need nothing from anyone and only demand that someone satisfy our petulant cries. It may be that in so doing we have purged from ourselves a true sense of community, a true of connexion.

To God: Missing Something

What does it mean, however, when we say “oh” to, but never directly invoke in a personal way, the holy God who is mighty to save, when we try to dump our baggage onto Him to satisfy our emotional catharsis but miss His healing touch, His healing hand? Is it this that we have missed? To live in a world where we do not cry out to the Lord in the desire and desperation of out hearts for Him and Him alone is a sad and lonely thing, bereft of the rich and tender mercies of God as we meet Him in the simple cross.

If it is this that lies in our swap of a single word, may He teach us to seek Him earnestly, not just to utter an interjection perhaps of a mystical ecstasy but to place ourselves at the foot of the cross that isn’t a psychoactive drug but the sign of God’s covenant, His seal upon His promise, which transforms a man even into the likeness of the perfect God.

God isn’t my dumpbucket: He’s my Redeemer, my Comforter and my Healer, and to Him I can cling in my deepest grief, my highest joy, my greatest hope. I know He makes all things new, and one day He will cure me of all that afflicts my soul. It is for this that I will cry out to Him for the refuge of His love, for He will hear.

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