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Semper Informanda: Prolegomenon
Following Dr. Mark Futato’s chapel address last week, this week’s “Prolegomenon” focuses on Princeton theologian Ellen T. Charry’s description of the state of being ashrey or “happy.” In this excerpt from her book "God and the Art of Happiness," Dr. Charry discusses the meaning of the Hebrew word and how its use in the Bible sheds light on the blessedness of the devoted life.
The Psalter presupposes the election of Israel and designates that election status as ashrey. It is a slippery word, often translated as “happy,” or “blessed,” though it does not mean a passing pleasant experience or emotion. Ashrey is something else. In the Psalms, it usually appears in a corporate context describing Israel, the upright, or some other group designated by the speaker (1:1; 33:12; 65:4; 146:5, et al.). Far from being a state of subjective feeling, ashrey describes something positive about the situation of others, such as being honored or privileged.
Ashrey is a masculine intensive plural noun (it includes women) that functions descriptively. It can never stand alone; it is always connected to another noun. It constructs a relationship with the noun that follows it by describing a positive quality or identity to the second noun. Ashrey identifies people who are privileged, fortunate, honored, or blessed: “ashrey [are] those who . . . or the person who . . .” One declares others to be ashrey by virtue of their membership in the people of God. It is not a self-designation, as in “I am happy.” Those who accept their blessed status celebrate the privilege of belonging to God. Ashrey characterizes the people of God. The word makarios [“blessed/happy”] functions this way in the Beatitudes. . .
Across epochs, locations, languages, circumstances, cultures, and discourses, texts in both Testaments of Scripture agree that the maker of heaven and earth seeks creation’s flourishing. All the texts we have considered argue that reverent devotion to the creator and redeemer of the world is the happy life, for it crafts one into an instrument of divine wisdom, love, and goodness.
Ellen T. Charry. God and the Art of Happiness. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010. Pp. 198-199; 250.
Orlando Semper Informanda | Volume 6 Issue 2