Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hearing God's Voice

Some twenty years ago I discovered the Bible.

Oh, I knew about it before that.  I think I got my first white leatherette King James Version with red letters and gold edge pages when I was in first grade, and I diligently sounded out the words in an attempt to learn the stories.  Before that I had gargantuan picture Bibles that illustrated the stories.  By the time I discovered the Bible, I owned at least two King James Bibles, a couple of New International Versions, a Good News for the Modern Man, a Living Bible, a Message, and a tattered French New Testament held together with a rubber band.  It just seems wrong to throw away a Bible.

By the time I discovered the Bible, I had memorized more than one hundred verses.  I could explain doctrines and  identify major characters.  I had read most of the New Testament and key parts of the Old Testament.

Owning a Bible, quoting Bible verses, and summarizing key events and characters is not the same thing as knowing the Bible. At least not the way it should be known.

Cognitive recognition of Scripture may have some value, but not eternally.

Until we read closely, engage the words, wrestle with them, ask questions, and respond, we haven't really heard God's voice in Scripture, and that is the point, I think.  If it doesn't speak to us, at least sometimes, we haven't really discovered the Bible as it was meant to be discovered.

It's filled with crazy and scary and sad and exciting stories that talk to us about people who loved God and people who didn't love God and how God interacted with them and how they responded, and by telling these stories we learn who God is and how he wants to interact with us.

And he does want to interact with us.  He wants to know us, and He wants us to know Him.  That's why he sent Jesus.  Through Jesus, we have "access to the Father" so that we are no longer "outcasts and wanderers but citizens with God's people, members of God's holy family" (Ephesians 2:18-19).

When I discovered the Bible, when I actively sought God's voice in the printed word and began asking questions, applying it to my life, it came alive.  After all those years of memorization, how could I have missed the excitement? the passion? the wisdom?

The thing is that sometimes the Bible can be overwhelming and confusing.  The stories, the lessons, the names, the places, the lessons, the genealogies, the laws.  The language.

Sometimes we get bored.  Sometimes we don't understand.  And sometimes God's voice through Scripture is just inaccessible.  

It helps to read with the Bible with somebody, somebody who talks with us about it and helps us figure out how it applies to us.  

It also helps to read a good translation that makes sense to us.  

A long time ago when I studied French, I took a class in translation.  The thing about translation is that there's more than one right answer.  You have to consider what the author meant to say and how the audience would understand it.  For example, Psalm 23.  Most of us don't really know a lot about shepherds--or sheep.  Or when Jesus talks about sowing and harvests.  We've planted flowers, but we've never lived on farms.  These passages speak to the people of that time in a way that they don't speak to us.

How does the Bible, written at various times by multiple authors to different cultures, speak to us today?

The translators of the King James Version used the language of the seventeenth century--translating Hebrew and Greek words with language specific to that time period.  That's the reason why it uses words like "thee" and "thou" and why it adds "-est" the end of some verbs.  People talked that way in the seventeenth century. We don't know use those kinds of words today, and so the King James can be a little confusing.

And sometimes it's good to read more than one translation because every translation has a different purpose.  

Language has rhythm.  Language has sound.  All of these matter, but these can be lost in a word for word translation.  For that reason, translators often want to add something that other translations miss.

Duane likes to read The Message in his devotions. The stories and the ideas come alive for him in this modern translation that takes some .  A lot of people like this translation because the language "pops."  It sounds current.  I'm not a huge fan for a variety of reasons that are mostly irrelevant to this discussion, but I know a lot of people really love The Message.   

For years I've preferred the New International Version, academically strong, but more formal than The Message.  I don't mind formal.  

Lately, however, I'm reading The Voice, a new translation.  In this version, the translators wanted to make sure that the text read like a story.  They added transitions to lead the reader from one idea to the next.  They inserted contextual details that might be lost to contemporary readers.  Anything added is printed in italics so that readers know that wasn't in the original text.  The original readers (or listeners) would have understood these things, and now contemporary readers can understand them too--even if they don't already have a background in Bible history.  

The translators changed some words, like "Christ," to "the Anointed," which explains what "Christ" or Messiah means.  Since "Christ" isn't a common word in our culture--it's actually a Greek word--it makes sense to use an English translation.  

The goal is to tell the story of the Bible in a cohesive way.  Each story leads to the next.  They aren't isolated events.  God had a purpose, and he included those stories for a purpose.  

I find myself caught up in the stories.  Reading a new translation catches me off guard, and I read the words in new ways.  They are fresh and new as they share ancient truths.  

I love the Bible.  When I discovered it, when I began hearing God's voice, I began to change.  That's the goal really.  

Whenever I lead small groups or Bible studies, my goal is that the people in my group discover the Bible, that they hear God's voice and that it changes them.  I don't actually care which version they read, but I do love this one.  That's one of the reasons I keep telling people about it.  

I want everybody to wrestle with Scripture, to discover the Bible, to hear God's voice.  

A free download of The New Testament in The Voice translation is available online, and you purchase a complete version from Amazon or from other retailers.


K. Flewelling said...

& by the way, Grandma sent me home with one of your Bibles from when you were a kid (red leather). She must agree that it's a terrible thing to throw away. :D Downloaded The Voice -- going to check it out. Thanks. :)

Joy G said...

I am so glad you gave the link for the The Voice because I was going to leave a comment asking if I can find it online :) and now I can leave a comment saying, thank you! I look forward to reading it :)