“Tell him I don’t bite.” I was interpreting for a doctor, and he wanted to reassure the anxious patient that there was nothing to be afraid of.
I hesitated. The patient was from a Central American country, and I wasn’t sure she would understand. Did they use that phrase where she was from? Would it help assure her, or make her even more worried, wondering why the doctor was talking about biting?Interpretation is more of an art than a science at times. Ideally, you interpret word-for-word, carefully keeping your own ideas and opinions in check. However, there are many occasions when word-for-word does not work.
First of all, there aren’t always exact translations. Even when they are, they don’t always make sense. I experienced that trying to interpret Dominican slang and phrases and it’s the same in English. Different areas have different idioms which can be baffling to an outsider.
As I wrote about last time, we cannot be selective in the parts of the Gospel we share. On the other hand, we cannot assume that all non-Christians have the same ‘language’, the same way of seeing things. We cannot expect the way Jesus met us is the only way He will meet someone else. Instead, I believe it is both necessary and biblical to adapt the presentation of the truth depending on the hearer. Not the truth itself, but the presentation.Jesus was inconsistently consistent. His purpose was to do His Father’s will, bringing Him glory. That didn’t change, but how He did it, did. With a broken woman caught in adultery, He was gentle. With puffed up religious leaders who thought they had it all figured out, He was quite harsh. Paul, too, used different approaches to share the same truth, depending on who he was speaking with.
I am certainly not Jesus, and not Paul, either. How can I possibly presume to share the Gospel? How can I know I’m not going to mess it up, freaking the person out with words that are more threatening than hopeful?
Since I knew what the doctor was trying to convey, I could find another way to say it. If I hadn’t, I would have been lost. Do I know the message of the Bible? Is it a part of me? In order to share hope in an increasingly hope-less world, I need to know what that hope is. I need to know Who it is.I think the reason we sometimes struggle when sharing our faith is that we’re not completely clear ourselves. We, too, get confused by certain things in the Bible. We, too, question the seeming paradox of God being just and being loving.
I think this is okay, and that God meets us right where we are. The problem is, we can become lazy, content to just stick with what we presently know.
A good interpreter continues to study the language, continues to learn. Not content with their present level of competence, they challenge themselves to do better.
Is this how I approach my faith? Do I continue to go to the Bible, wrestling with parts I don’t understand? Do I seek to learn more about God and His character? Is there a ‘holy discontent’ in me, desiring an ever-deepening relationship with my Savior?The more Spanish I learn, the more I want to use it. Interpreting becomes less of a struggle as I gain confidence and competence. I am more able to adjust, more able to get at the heart of what is being said. It is worth all the struggle of language learning to watch a connection happen.
The more I learn about God, His plans, His character, the more I want to share Him. I lose my fear that I'll do it wrong, since I know that His living word is in me, and will guide me. At times the learning is difficult, but knowing I am able to be a part of that life-giving connection makes it worth it. What a joy!