Friday, March 29, 2024

Beware Illustrations that Only Work in One Language

Back in the early days of this blog, I published several articles in both English and Spanish. That's why the title of this site is Bilingual Bible Blog (even though I rarely post articles in both languages any more, due to limited time available to devote to writing the same article twice).

But something I've seen going around recently on social media recently prompted me to think in bilingual terms. Here is the meme that had been circulating:

The thought expressed here is a nice, sentimental devotional idea. But it doesn't work universally.

As a bilingual person, I am frequently confronted by things like this in memes, written social media posts, and spoken statements I hear. As someone who has frequently interpreted from English to Spanish for teachers and preachers, I cringe when something like this comes up, because it just doesn't translate, and for me, for a truth to be universal, it has to work across languages.

While e, a, and r may be the middle three letters of the English word "heart," there is actually no linguistic relationship between the two words. It's a coincidence of spelling. 

If we look at Spanish, we find absolutely no such correspondence with oido (the inner part of the ear where hearing actually occurs, as opposed to the oreja or outer ear that funnels the sound toward the eardrum) and corazón (heart).  

Now, if this kind of wordplay occurred in the original languages of the Old and New Testaments (Hebrew and Greek, respectively), then I could put more stock in it as something intended by the biblical writers. I don't know Hebrew, but I do know that in Greek, ear is οὖς (ous) and heart is καρδία (kardia). Again, as with Spanish, there is nothing in common about how the words are spelled.

Now, stepping away from the nerdy linguistic points, I want to deal with the final sentence in that meme, which says, "If you want God's heart, learn to listen to Him." That statement can be interpreted two ways that I can see. The first is, "If you want God's heart to be formed in you, so that the things that matter to Him matter to you, learn to listen to Him." That is totally valid.

The other possible way to take that is, "If you want God's heart to be turned toward you, to be favorable toward you, learn to listen to Him." That would actually be in opposition to the teaching of Scripture. God's heart is already inclined toward those created as His image. He loves His human creations, even when they do not return that love. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Perhaps the most well-known statement of God's love for humanity is John 3:16. His heart has always been toward human beings made as His image, and He desires for all to be restored to proper relationship with Him.

P.S. Is it just me, or does that image of left and right ears joined together look more like a smiling face than a heart shape (especially considering a real heart does not look like the conceptualized image of a heart we associate with Valentine's day)?

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