How Are You?
Life may not be perfect but you and I have so much to be joyful about.
We see someone we know, and it’s just about inevitable. One of us says, “Hi! How are you?” The other one replies, “Good! (Or “Fine!” or “Okay!”) How about you?” Neither of us expects to give or to receive from the other one a catalog of physical ailments, family issues, spiritual struggles, financial problems, and so on. If we stop to think about it at all, we might feel a little guilty about basically lying about how we’re actually doing. But we know they don’t want the catalog.
Now, there are times when something especially good is happening, with our health, family, spiritual life, job, etc. In which case we might actually respond with some genuine information.
It’s just a custom we have, at least in the culture I live in. So I typically roll with it. It occurs to me, though, that in the Bible when people meet and say, “How are you?”, they actually wanted to know. (A few examples: Genesis 43:27, Exodus 18:7, Judges 18:15, Philippians 2:20.)
Is this something to worry about? Probably not, but it did get me thinking, maybe we could do better, at least among fellow believers. There might be some examples we can find in our Bibles, to improve how we greet each other, elevate it a bit above the usual mindless formula.
We might immediately think of Paul’s greetings at the opening of his letters. Every one of them is, “Grace to you and peace from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” or very similar wording. Good (great in fact) for a letter, but seems a bit formal for casual conversation. Is there some form of this that we could use with one another without it being too clunky?
Maybe we could embrace the Hebrew greeting, “Shalom” (peace), and know among us that it’s shorthand for, “Grace and peace to you from God and Jesus.”
The greeting James uses in his letter is just one word-this might be promising. In almost all versions it’s translated, “Greetings”. You may be aware that the Greek word James uses is chairo, which really means, “rejoice”. In other contexts it’s rendered joy, rejoicing, glad, hail, etc.
But James isn’t the only one to use it as a greeting. Gabriel uses it to greet Mary (Luke 1:28). Jesus uses it to greet the women on resurrection morning (Matthew 28:9). The apostles use it to greet the Gentile believers in their letter (Acts 15:23). In a horrible misuse, Judas uses it when he greets Jesus with a kiss (Matthew 26:49). Apparently even Romans used it to each other (Acts 23:26).
And here’s something else. This word is the root of the Greek word charis, which has some other meanings but the big one is, “Grace.” Yep, including all those “grace and peace” greetings from Paul.
Is it too awkward to greet someone by saying, “Rejoice”? Conveying through one word an exhortation to think about all there is to be joyful about, the top of the list being grace. Maybe I’m cynical, but when we say, “How are you?”, it seems like code for, “Just say you’re fine, don’t lay your troubles on me.” It would be so much better to have some kind of code for, “Life may not be perfect but you and I have so much to be joyful about.” It will never take off in the culture around us, but maybe it would have a chance among us fellow-believers? And then, hey, if we hear, “How are you?” we would know, they really want to know.