A few weeks ago, I introduced a series of blogs on the rationale for translating the Old Testament into the languages of Africa. There are quite a number of languages in Africa with the New Testament, no Old Testament and no plans to translate the Old Testament. As I stated in the introduction, there are a number of good reasons to translate the Old Testament. I am limiting myself to one proposition – that God has revealed himself in the Old Testament in ways that give his comfort, encouragement and instruction for many of the most burning issues facing African Christians, while the New Testament has little to say on those burning issues.
In February, a friend of mine who has worked in Sudan, posted on Facebook this lamentation from by a Sudanese woman:
I was born in war.
I grew up in war.
I got snatches of simple schooling in war.
I hid in mango groves to hide from war.
I wore leaves as clothing in war.
I married in war.
I bore children in war.
From birth to now I am still in war.
I probably will die in war.
You may think that all of Africa is embroiled in conflict. That is certainly not true. But it is certainly true some parts of Africa are in long-term conflicts or wars. Sudan and Southern Sudan come at the top of that list. It is also the case that conflicts sometimes break out in peaceful parts of Africa, last for a while, then go away. Côte d’Ivoire is a good case in point.
Unless you count the book of Revelation, the New Testament contains very little military conflict. On the other hand, the Old Testament tells the story of hundreds of years of conflict between the descendants of Abraham and the Philistines. That conflict ebbs and flows, throughout the books of Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles and II Chronicles. And that is not the only military conflict in the Old Testament.
Westerners can have difficulty making sense of the story of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, the deportation, exile and eventual return; so much so that we need to read explanations. But to people in Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, such stories sound all too ordinary.
But the Old Testament goes beyond simply telling stories of conflict and war. In the prophets we get God’s perspective on those conflicts. Through the voices of the prophets we hear God’s evaluation and his remedy. But that is not all. In the Psalms and in Lamentations we hear cries from the souls of those caught in the horrors of war. In those books, wars cease to be just historical fact or acts condemned by God. They take on a human face. We are shown the gut-wrenching effects they have on real people.
My eyes are red from crying,
my stomach is in knots,
and I feel sick all over.
My people are being wiped out,
and children lie helpless
in the streets of the city.
A child begs its mother
for food and drink,
then blacks out
like a wounded soldier
lying in the street.
The child slowly dies
in its mother’s arms.
Some Christians may say to people in caught in the troubles of war that they don’t have enough faith. The health and wealth Gospel tells those in the poverty of war that they need to claim God’s promises. Some Africans would say of that God has cursed those caught in conflict. But the Old Testament does something different – it validates the suffering of those caught in the horrors of violent conflict. We comfortable Westerners find the lamentations in the Old Testament difficult to understand, but for those living in war, they bring release, comfort, and even encouragement because they parallel the own tears and feelings. They are real-world examples of the New Testament injunction:
… casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
I Peter 5:7
The Sudanese woman quoted above was not exaggerating, not even a little. I’ll bet that if she were to read the book of Lamentations in her language, she would find her feelings validated and it would give her hope. There’s nothing like it in the New Testament.
Why translate the Old Testament? Simple, so that woman, and millions like her, will have the passages in the Bible God wrote just for her, passages that let her know his presence, consolation, encouragement and gentle instruction for her exact situation.