For this is how God loved the world—all of it, everything: God gave God’s unique son so that everyone who trusts into him need not be destroyed but may have eternal life. For God did not send this son into the world to judge the world, but so that the world might be made whole through him. – John 3:16-17 (my translation)
I know. That’s not the way your Bible says it. It’s not the way my Bibles say it, either. I have several. It goes with the job. No, that’s not the way it reads in your Bible or mine, but it is a perfectly legitimate translation from the ancient Greek text.
So how does it sound to you, this word about the Word in different words? Does “trust into him” make you pause? Before you mentally substituted the more familiar “believe in him” did you stop to think about the difference? What do you mean when you say “believe?” Is there a difference between believing as intellectual affirmation versus trusting? Can you believe in someone but still not trust them with your life? What’s the difference between in and into? Subtle, that one. But doesn’t in sound more like stasis, something settled, while into is more of an ongoing process? Why do so many translations say condemn when the Greek word most frequently means to judge. True, it can mean condemn, but why leap to that? Oh, and saved. Such an interesting, interesting word. Sozo in Greek. It can mean to be rescued, to be made safe, to be removed from danger, but its oldest meaning is to be healed, to be made whole.
So how do you prefer to hear it? Heard one way it can be about God’s plan for fire insurance of the eternal kind. Heard another way it can be a message about God’s intervention to heal this world, all of us and everything else. Which translation speaks to you?
How are you translating the world around you? How are you translating the other people you encounter in life? How are you translating yourself?
“Love one another as I have loved you,” says Jesus, later in the Gospel of John. He makes it a commandment of all things. Really loving each other involves learning to really hear each other and see each other. David Augsburger wrote, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” To love you, I need to hear you. To love me, you need to hear me. We need to translate each other accurately. To do that we each need to know something about how the other person is translating the world and interpreting their experience.
We are not looking at the world through the same eyes or hearing it through the same ears, but if, when we disagree, we stop to ask why we are seeing and hearing things so differently—if we take the first step in translating each other—then we’re taking the first steps in loving each other. If nothing else, paying close attention to those around us can teach us all kinds of interesting things, even when they are not being particularly relational. “I learned silence from the talkative and tolerance from the intolerant and kindness from the unkind,” wrote Khalil Gibran. And that’s love, too.