The Use and Meaning of Amen
When I think about it, the word “amen” perplexes me.
Out of training and convention, I say “amen” at the end of a prayer, as if it means “Goodbye, God” or “I’m done, now.” Not only does saying amen tell God my prayer is over, it also lets others know to open their eyes. It’s all rather strange to me.
What really bugs me is preachers who use, overuse, and misuse amen when they preach. Sometimes amen becomes an interjection, as in “The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself. Amen!” Other times the inflection in their voice implies a question, as in “The Bible says to love your neighbor as yourself. Amen?”
They also use “amen” as mindless filler (just like they sometimes utter “Praise the Lord” at nonsensical times) or to evoke a response from listeners, as in “Are you listening?” They say, “Amen?” and the expected response is “Amen!” as in “Yes, we are”—even when they’re not. This all seems rather silly to me.
A few ministers utter “amen” so often when they preach that it distracts listeners (or at least it distracts me). Then I start counting. A few preachers are able to exceed one “amen” per sentence. For one, I noted a ratio of 1.5—until I grew weary of counting.
What does amen actually mean? How and when should we use it?
The dictionary doesn’t help much, either. It says Amen is the name of the Egyptian god of life and reproduction. The other definition says amen is used at the end of a prayer.
The Amplified Bible, however, is more helpful. It sometimes adds a parenthetical explanation, implying amen means, “so be it” or “so let it be.” I see both of these as fitting, God-honoring ways to conclude a prayer, much more so than tacking on a rote and obligatory “amen.”
Yet using those phrases instead of “amen” in public prayer, often leaves people confused. Is he done praying? Can I open my eyes, now? How long as the prayer been over? Was he ever praying in the first place?
I normally follow convention and say, “amen” at the end of my prayers. However, when around friends or informal gatherings, I sometimes use “So be it” when it fits or maybe a heartfelt, “Thank you, Jesus.”
However, the Bible says to pray without ceasing, so should we ever say, Amen?”
Peter DeHaan writes about biblical spirituality, often with a postmodern slant. He seeks a fresh approach to faith and following God through the lens of scripture, without the baggage of made-up traditions and meaningless practices. Read more in his books, blog, and weekly email updates.