Part of interpreting is having to say things that may be hard or unpleasant. As most of you know, I work at a Free Clinic which serves uninsured adults with chronic conditions. We have many patients who speak languages other than English, and depend on our interpreters to accurately translate what is said.What would happen if the doctor told someone, “You must quit smoking and lose 100 pounds or you will continue to get worse to the point of death” but the interpreter felt that was too harsh? Would it be helpful to say, “The doctor says you should lose 10 pounds to feel better”?
What if a doctor told a patient, “You have diabetes and must start using insulin” but the interpreter didn’t want to upset her so said “The doctor says you need to cut back on sugary snacks”? Would that be okay? The patient would leave thinking everything was great… until she was rushed to the Emergency Room in crisis.Sometimes what God reveals to a person is unpleasant to hear. Sin is ugly and being convicted of it doesn’t feel good. At times we are tempted to kind of skip over that part. To act as if God is just loving and that sin isn’t nearly the problem people make it out to be. To point only to scripture that supports this view, and tell them not to worry about those parts of the Bible that are hard to understand.
But that is like telling a diabetic that skipping dessert is all she needs to do to be healthy. I ask again, when I do that, am I actually hindering a genuine, life-giving connection? It is not up to me to make God’s words nice and easy to swallow. Because, while some of God’s words are difficult, they are necessary for life.Although they don’t always like to hear it, the majority of patients are grateful to be told the truth. Because along with the diagnosis, comes a treatment plan. Concrete steps they can take like diet, exercise, medicines.
Of course, we need to understand that immediately changing everything may be too much. So, while the ultimate goal is cutting out all soda, our treatment plan may start with smaller steps. Switching first to diet soda, or drinking one less a day for the first month.It is not easy to break old habits. The patient will not always be compliant. There are good weeks and bad weeks. But, the ultimate goal, being healthy, needs to stay in front of her. It would be immoral to tell her, “Well, it’s too hard, so just don’t worry about it.”
So, too, with the Gospel. We don’t ignore the truth, which is that apart from faith in Jesus Christ, we are all condemned to die. But, we do understand that, especially in those early days, the newness of it all can be overwhelming. And this is where discipleship comes in. Coming alongside someone, encouraging them as they begin to walk in step with Jesus.The Great Commission tells us to make disciples, teaching everything that Jesus commanded. Everything. We do no one any favors by selectively interpreting a medical diagnosis. We want the person to become healthier, and that means telling them what the doctor says. We want people to enter into a life-saving, life-giving relationship with God. No selective interpreting here, either.