The word amen is Hebrew for “So be it!” We use it at the end of our prayers as an expression of hope that God will answer our requests. Used at the end of a doxology, however, the word has a different connotation. It is not so much an expression of hope as one of confidence: “It most definitely is!” rather than “So be it!”
The reason for the difference between the amen of hope and the amen of confidence is that in our ignorance, immaturity, and iniquity, we too often ask for things we should not have or cannot handle, at least not at the present moment. We hope for such things, but we are confident that God in his knowledge, wisdom, and holiness will always instead give us exactly what we need precisely when we need it.
Have you ever wondered why such hope and confidence are possible? Why we pray to God and praise his character? Earlier, I said that theology gives rise to doxology, faith to praise. But it is just as true that doxology directs us back to theology. We pray to and praise God because of who he is and what he does. Lex orandi, lex credendi: The law of prayer is the law of belief, as the early church often put it.
Revelation 1:8 turns from doxology to theology, from a word of praise to a word about God: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’” says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” John repeats these expressions elsewhere in his Apocalypse.
- “the Alpha and the Omega” (21:6 and 22:13), which has the same basic meaning as “the first and the last” (1:17, 2:8, 22:13) and “the beginning and the end” (21:6, 22:13)
- “who is and who was and who is to come” (1:4, 4:8, 11:17)
- “the Almighty” (1:8; 4:8; 11:17; 15:3; 16:7, 14; 19:6, 15; 21:22)
Each of the phrases expresses God’s sovereignty. As Robert H. Mounce explains, “Alpha and Omega represent the Hebrew Aleph and Tau, which were regarded not simply as the first and last letters of the alphabet, but as including all the letters in between. Hence, the title sets forth God as the sovereign Lord over everything that takes place in the entire course of human history.”[i]
The doctrine of God’s sovereignty is the source of the Christian’s greatest comfort and deepest perplexity. It comforts us because “we know that for all who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). Undoubtedly, the Christians in Roman Asia who first received John’s Revelation needed such comfort, which derives from a Latin word meaning “to give strength.” They needed strength to face the difficult days of imperial persecution that lay in their immediate future. Our days are differently difficult, but we need strength too. And so we pray.
God’s sovereignty is also the source of the Christian’s greatest perplexity, however, because we do not know how God accomplishes his will in the face of our rebellious willing. Scripture never solves the riddle of divine sovereignty and human will, probably because we would not comprehend the solution anyway. But it does call us to prayer and praise, to the submission of ourselves to God. For as our character and desires conform to his, our “So be it” gradually becomes his “It most definitely is!”
And for that, I think, we can all say a hearty “Amen!”
[i] Mounce, Revelation, 51–52.