Do you have a favorite version of the Bible?

Although I do not use it often in my daily reading and study, there is a great deal of the King James Version of the Bible in my head. Growing up, it is the Bible we used until I was in high school. It is the translation that I used when we memorized Scripture. The fact that the sound of a verse is etched in my mind brings me encouragement, comfort and hope.

No other reading of the 23rd Psalm sounds right unless it is from the King James Version. There are several other verses that strike my spirit that way.

When I study a passage of Scripture, for an article I am writing or a lesson that I am teaching, I usually start with the New International Version of the Bible. My heart holds a special place for the NIV translation. One of my professors at Seminary, Dr. Lewis Foster, did extensive work for the NIV, translating the books of Luke and Acts. The NIV reminds me of time spent in and out of the classroom with Dr. Foster, and it reminds me of my days at the Seminary.

But when I want to read the Bible in a devotional way, desiring the Scripture to speak to my soul, I most often turn to the Message version of the Bible. Many people misunderstand the translation and believe it to be a paraphrase. A paraphrase takes a passage in one language and uses the same language to render it more clearly. We paraphrase Shakespeare’s works in today’s English. The old Living Bible was a paraphrase.

The Message is a translation because it uses the original Hebrew and Greek Scriptures and seeks to render it with expressions that capture today’s idioms. Read the Message Bible and it sounds like the way we talk. I can feel as if the writer of a book of the Bible is sitting on my couch, speaking directly to me.

The events of the last three months have made me wish that Paul or one of the other writers of the Bible were sitting in my living room. Would they be shaking their heads and rolling their eyes the same way I am? What would God have to say about all of these things?

A Kentucky political campaign has television commercials sponsored by one candidate that announces “my opponent said this.” The opponent counters with another commercial that says these words were taken out of context, they were edited and doctored. The first candidate counters the counter; the opponent offers a rebuttal. What is the real truth?

The medical community is unsure exactly how easily the COVID-19 coronavirus is spread. One group of doctors say that we can catch the disease from someone who has the virus but is not showing symptoms. Another group says that isn’t exactly how the disease is spread. Still another group says it is spread that way, but not to the extent the first group fears. What is the real truth?

The racial divisions in our country have all of us clamoring for solutions to the problem. Some think that cutting funding to police departments would help the issues. Some want to do away with police as we know it completely. Others think that more funding and better training will help. Just what is the right path to take?

I am not keen on the phrase that is bantered about describing this process. The term “fake news” packs more of a wallop than it should. I don’t want to think that someone is purposely telling me lies to deceive me. But, as they say, this isn’t my first rodeo. I am aware that people will tell just part of the story to make their side look stronger, and to sway my opinions and actions.

One day this week, my devotional readings took me to the book of Isaiah. The Old Testament prophet is perhaps best known for his prophecies about the coming Messiah. The historical context of Isaiah’s words was to warn Israel of the coming judgment that would be offered through the hands of the nation of Assyria. The setting of the book, as Isaiah says, is “the gathering darkness that is about to fall upon Israel” (Isaiah 8:22).

Listen with your heart to Isaiah’s words in verses 9 and 10. “Prepare for the worst and wring your hands. Yes, prepare for the worst and wring your hands! Plan and plot all you want – nothing will come of it. All your talk is mere talk, empty words” (Isaiah 8:9b-10a MSG),

The reaction of everyone to any of today’s problems seems to be wringing the hands. Look at the trouble we are in. What should we do? “I know, let’s all wear masks. We will make it the law.” “I know, let’s all stand six feet apart.” “We will gather in smaller groups. Let’s limit the capacity of the auditorium to half its size.”

Plan all you want. Some of the plans may even help somewhat. But don’t rely just on your plans.

“Because when all is said and done, the last word is Immanuel – God With Us” (Isaiah 8:10b MSG). It is no coincidence that some 2,000 years ago, angels announced a baby was born and His name would be called Immanuel.

When all is said and done, we have a heart problem, not a virus problem. The government can – and should – put boundaries on behavior. But we are a flawed people, bound by human constraints, stumbled in our misconceptions, and short-sighted by squinting eyes not used to the light. The government cannot dictate what is inside us. We need to capture a vision beyond ourselves, past these circumstances and into a picture of hope.

Let us settle our hearts into the security that God is not finished being with us yet.

Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at tgmay001@gmail.com.

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