Isn’t it interesting how we tend to pick up a phrase and use it over and over. Often the phrase is one we learn from our own family while we are growing up, and many times we have no clue where it originated.
The phrase, “what goes around, comes around,”is one such phrase. I remember hearing it some growing up, but in the last several years, it has been used and heard repeatedly in my own home.
First, I admit that that phrase has personally helped manage frustrations when something does not seem fair or when something we hear upsets us and we feel the action is not ethical.
During the past couple of years, we utter the phrase almost every night as we listen to the daily news. Oh oh, there it is again—someone did something that is against our belief system—“what goes around comes around.”
Now remember, I was working on reading the Bible—Old and New Testament—following a daily plan. This week finished up Genesis and Romans, and now the plan focuses on Isaiah and Mark.
The reading for January 22 was Isaiah 3 & 4, plus the final section of Mark 1. Admittedly I was surprised to jump from Genesis to Isaiah, but I am getting used to just accepting the plan as published and see where it takes me.
And so yesterday I am reading Isaiah 3 when I stumbled into verse 11. Immediately I thought so that is where the old saying comes from: “what goes around comes around.” I had to stop, reread it, check the Wesley Study Bible Notes (NRSV) and reread it again:
Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are, for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
Doesn’t that read like the phrase we use so often today? Well, I decided I should check into this a little deeper so went on line and googled the origin of the phrase “what goes around, comes around”to see what is the phrase’s origin.
Checking a number of sites, I finally located one that seems to bring all of them together: https://english.stackexchange.com/questions/415499/is-what-goes-around-comes-around-african-american
One thing I learned is that most believe the quote first appeared in Paul Crump’s book, Burn Baby Burn, written in 1962 about a man on death row.
Yet another entry indicates what one reader remembers her mother, in 1950s, saying, “You get what you give.”
An interesting addition to the page on this quote comes from three different dictionary entries:
- Merriam-Webster defines it as: “if someone treats other people badly he or she will eventually be treated badly by someone else”
- Dictionary.com confirms and adds the ominous foreboding, “Retribution follows wrongdoing; justice may take time, but it will prevail” and suggests the proverb dates from the 1970s.
- Oxford Dictionaries simply states, “The consequences of one’s actions will have to be dealt with eventually.”
A final reference comes from the use of the phrase in the African-American culture. This is the best summary of the comments from the website:
Finally, Lewis King, Vernon Dixon & Wade Nobles, African Philosophy: Assumption & Paradigms for Research on Black Persons (1976) has this to say about the expression:
This point is well demonstrated by one of our more common proverbs. The Black child who is told that “what goes around comes around” may be receiving a specific admonition with regard to the consequences of his behavior, but he is simultaneously experiencing a reinforcement of the African world view, namely, that there are vital connections among events and experiences. Both the specific admonition and the general philosophical perspective are synthesized in the child’s developing conception of the world. …
It is no accident, then, that “what goes around comes around” is a common African-American proverb. As suggested above, the concept of continuity between events and experiences that is so fundamental to the African world view is clearly expressed here.
Certainly today’s language includes influences from all around the world and the discussion as to the origin of the phrase, “what goes around comes around”indicates an attitude that exists when something bad, wrong, unethical, illegal, etc. happens, somewhere along the line there will be an accounting for that behavior.
I believe that the true origin of the phrase is in the book of Isaiah where the prophet is warning the people that they must remain faithful to God and to follow the Law of Moses. Sadly, the prophecy did not cause the people to stop and correct their behaviors. (God had to send Jesus, his son, to join us on earth so he could model how to live the commandment.)
Read Isaiah’s words and consider the meaning of our often-used phrase:
The look on their faces bears witness against them;
they proclaim their sin like Sodom,
they do not hide it.
Woe to them!
For they have brought evil on themselves.
10 Tell the innocent how fortunate they are,
for they shall eat the fruit of their labors.
11 Woe to the guilty! How unfortunate they are,
for what their hands have done shall be done to them.
12 My people—children are their oppressors,
and women rule over them.
O my people, your leaders mislead you,
and confuse the course of your paths.
13 The Lord rises to argue his case;
he stands to judge the peoples.
14 The Lord enters into judgment
with the elders and princes of his people:
It is you who have devoured the vineyard;
the spoil of the poor is in your houses.
15 What do you mean by crushing my people,
by grinding the face of the poor? says the Lord God of hosts.
I ask, does that now sound just like what we are saying when we use that phrase, “what goes around comes around”? What are we to do about it?
We know that we cannot judge, only God makes the final judgment; but we can remember that we are responsible for our actions and God tried and tried to get the message across that there is one simple law to follow: Love one another as you want to be loved.
When I hear the saying now, “what goes around comes around,”I now will hear the words of Isaiah trying to warn the people that God will do whatever he can to teach us how to love one another. I must remain faithful and not give in to what I know is against God’s commandment to love one another.
Please join me in prayer:
Dear Patient Father of All,
Thank you for the words of warning,
for the work of your faithful,
and for opening my understanding
so I can learn from scripture
how to live in today’s world
loving one another. –Amen