Have you ever wanted to express something–a deep thankfulness from the heart, zealous indignation for wrongs committed, or perhaps the passion of true love–but just couldn’t find words that sufficiently reflected the feelings you had inside? I think A.W. Tozer expresses it best in The Attributes of God when he describes our human attempt to put words to the Infinite: “The human language staggers when we try to use it to describe God. The prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles of the New put such pressure on language that words groan and squeak under the effort to tell the story.” What does it look like for us to effectively communicate to Italians the most profound, yet simple message of love ever expressed in the history of the universe?
A fun but silly example of how things can get lost in translation is the difference between how you express “I love you” in English and Italian. In English, we throw “I love” around haphazardly to describe our affinity for steak, a beautiful dress, a new car, family members, and our God. However, in Italian, there is typically great differentiation between the ways that you express affinity for each of these things. The literal “I love” in Italian is “io amo” and would typically be reserved only for a spouse or for God. To express “I love” to a family member or close friend in Italian a “voglio bene” construction is used–which literally means “I want [you, he, she, them] well.” Finally, to say “I love” in Italian regarding an inanimate object–this delicious steak, your dress, my new car–a completely different construction is used. We like the distinctions in Italian, as it gives us pause to ponder the vast difference between our “love” for objects and our love for each other and our Lord.
While on a slightly diverse level, Jana and I find ourselves struggling to adequately communicate our feelings and affections in our adopted language of Italian. Imagine trying to explain the deep things of the heart or significant spiritual truths in your second language–they are hard enough to formulate into words in English! Our most challenging conversations are those that involve fleshing out the invisible realities of the heart and the spiritual realms. However, we’re excited about getting better and better at verbalizing and incarnating the inner transformation that we have experienced by faith in Jesus in a way that speaks to the perceived needs of the Italian heart.
The truth of the gospel never changes but the way we present it in different contexts should and must if we want to convey what we know to be unfathomably good news in a way that will be received as such. In simple words: What are the itches of the Italian heart that need scratching? These itches are the precious bridges that we’ll use to deliver the good news in a way that convicts the hearers of their desperate need for Jesus and points them to faith. Obviously, we aren’t looking for a silver bullet technique, as the Father alone can draw the lost and the Spirit alone can convict them. However, we want to best use the cultural resources at our disposal that we might collaborate with Him as He works to bring in His harvest in Italy…