Why is it so hard to understand?


Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Throughout the Bible, whenever God speak to people, they understand him. Adam: “Where are you?” Noah: “Build a boat.” Abram: “Leave…go…a great nation.” All the prophets. God spoke in their language. They may not have liked it, but they got it.

But now, we have to translate God’s word into the language of the people, so they can understand. Why is that? At Pentecost, everyone from all over the world heard and understood the word spoken by the disciples. After that, it gets more complicated.

It took a long time, and a lot of sweat and tears to learn Greek and Hebrew, so I could read, hear and understand God in the original languages.  But even with a wide variety of English translations, I still struggle to figure out what God is talking about. Why is it so hard now?

Some possibilities: God spoke to fewer people back then. Like one at a time. God spoke to one nation. Israel. God spoke through one person: Jesus. Now, since Pentecost, the word has been unleashed in the world and for the world and for me.

It’s worth the effort.

Do you understand?

I cleaned my trumpet today. As I think about writing that last sentence, I realize that any non-brass playing person probably has no idea what I’m talking about. They’re thinking, “Why would you clean a trumpet?” Trumpet-muggles probably have no idea that a trumpet has numerous slides and valves that all come apart so that you can clean the tarnish off the brass and keep everything in top working order. When everything moves and slides effortlessly, it is so much nicer to play the horn.

Now to get some mileage out of this metaphor. As a pastor, I probably say a number of things that puzzle many people who listen to me preach, teach, or counsel. My education was so good that theological talk comes very easily and is very useful around other clergy. But not around the people I’ve been called to shepherd. Sermon preparation involves going back and cleaning up all the theological jargon and making it understandable to a normal person. (Not that I’m that abnormal.) Even after all these years, I can go into any sermon and find phrases that need to be translated into something people can understand. At least if you want them to understand anything you’re talking about. Words like “faith,” “Bible study,” “repent,” and “mercy” probably go way over the heads of many listeners. I’ll bet some people have listened to me and wished they had a translator. Not all the time – but I am sure I have my moments.