Lost in Translation

There are new computer and phone apps coming out every day. Some are quite amazing.

Take, for example, the fact that up until recently you really needed a guide book of simple phrases if you were traveling to a country where you did not speak the language. Unless the person in front of you from that country spoke English, you were reduced to pointing at the book, gesturing and hoping for the best.

No more! There’s an app for that! Today you can easily converse with someone from a foreign country who does not speak English simply by speaking into your cell phone. The app will translate your words immediately into the language of your choosing. Amazing!

What occurred to me, however, is this: How is the word “God” translated? Of course, the app would use the equivalent word in, say, Spanish: “Dios”. That’s not what I mean. I mean how can we translate this word when talking to each other—even those who speak the same language? After all, there have been many times when I have been talking about God to someone and they understand that word entirely differently than I do. No app is going to help with that!

It goes the other way, too. When I hear some people talk about God as a divine, judgmental being who hates gay people, created racial divides for our benefit, and calls down hurricanes to punish people, I feel like I must be getting a very poor translation of the word “God” because it bears no resemblance to the word as I understand it.

So here’s an idea: What would happen if we replaced the word “God” with the word “Love”?

It would be interesting to see what would happen if this was the programming on translation apps, but it would be even more interesting (and, I believe, beneficial) to see what would happen in our discussions with people where there is little common ground.

This really wouldn’t be such a great leap. After all, in the First Letter of John we read: “God is love. Whoever abides in love abides in God, and God in him. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:16). The Apostle Paul said that “Faith, hope, and love abide and the greatest of these is…love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in favor of watering the word “God” down to the point where it stops being religious. I’m just wondering what impact using “love” instead might have on bridge-building with people who are not religious, belong to a different faith, or who are also Christian yet have very different beliefs.

I have a feeling the divides we too often struggle with might be reduced and we will find ourselves speaking the same language; without the need for an app.

See you in church,
–Rev. Dominic