Posted by: Jack Brown | September 24, 2013

Lost in Translation

I’ve often told the story of the early years of my Christian walk and how whenever things got difficult I would buy a new Bible. The gist of the story is that if I was struggling with a particular sin or feeling like my Christian growth was stagnant, I would deduce that all that was needed to fix it was a new Bible. Surely that would make everything OK, and would spark a new fire in my soul that would burn away all the nastiness and lethargy that ate at my nascent faith.

I had already amassed a wonderful Bible collection when this warped thinking took another ridiculous turn a year or so later. As I was now working in a Christian bookstore, I became aware of the reality that there were myriad translations of the Bible out there: NIV, NASB, RSV…all those other wonderful letters. And suddenly the failure of my previous solution seemed crystal clear: it wasn’t a new Bible I needed, it was a new Bible TRANSLATION. Of course! All my disobedience and rebellion and laziness weren’t my own fault, they were caused by the fact I was using the wrong version of the Bible! So I would research and sweat and stress over which was the “correct” translation, hoping beyond hope that once I figured that crucial question out all my problems would disappear.

Thankfully, by the time I graduated from college that kind of thinking was done. Well, sort of. I no longer looked to the inadequacy of my Bibles as the source of my struggles, which is a good thing. But I did continue to look to the inadequacy of just about everything else–my church, my schedule, my friends, my job…you name it, I blamed it. And by this point I was starting to get desperate. If I didn’t find the cause of my problems, I knew my faith was never going to thrive.

I wish I could tell you I snapped out of this kind of thinking, especially after heading to seminary where everyone KNOWS you finally have it all together. But the truth is, I persisted in this fruitless quest for quite some time–always looking to the external cause of my lingering sin and my lukewarm faith. Truth be told I still fall into that pattern sometimes today, asking God to give me discernment to see just who or what is to blame for my troubles.

I remember as a child touring the Columbus Zoo they had a sign towards the end of one of the exhibits that warned visitors that just around the corner was the scariest, most dangerous animal in the entire zoo. I remember seeing it the very first time as a child, terrified of what was to come, hiding my face from the display that awaited us. Of course when you turned the corner you came face to face with…a mirror. I’m sure they were making some sort of conversationist pitch, but my grade-school mind couldn’t grasp that message. All I remember is the thought that of all the things we think in the world are scary, perhaps the scariest thing of all is what we have the ability to be.

I try to think of that mirror when I’m tempted to look in an outward direction during times of difficulty and trial. Sure, sometimes there are external forces at work, I’d be a fool not to admit that’s a possibility. But I’m trying to train myself to first direct my gaze inward, to ask myself if the dis-ease and the discomfort I feel might be rooted in something about me, not something about what’s around me. Blame is easy to assign, unless it asks you to assign it in the first-person.

Over the years one of the versions of the Bible I’ve come to appreciate is Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase, “The Message.” I love what he does with Jeremiah 17:9-10–

“The heart is hopelessly dark and deceitful,
a puzzle that no one can figure out.
But I, God, search the heart and examine the mind.
I get to the heart of the human.
I get to the root of things.
I treat them as they really are,
not as they pretend to be.”

I pray God would search my heart and examine my mind, and get to the heart of what’s happening in me, the root of whatever I may face. May each situation I find myself in be treated as it really is, not as I pretend it to be.

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