“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” John 1:14a

The Word who became flesh is the most breathtaking, precise translation of language ever accomplished.

In all other cases, there is something lost in translation, the nuances and intimacies of the native tongue sanded away until only the general message remains, the cultural concepts expressed in one apt word awkwardly sprawling into a wordy, sterile commentary.

I first noticed this when I learned the Russian word, toska, two syllables that house a world of unfulfilled longing, boredom, and spiritual sadness. In English, it’s translated to the one-dimensional “yearning,” or “nostalgia,” fitting words for a culture that values efficiency over emotion but that loses the weight of the Russian.[1] As my skills progressed and I read Alexander Pushkin’s verse in the original, the English translations always fell short—Nabokov’s word-for-word version of Evgeniy Onegin lost the beauty of the rhythm and form, while translations that kept the rhyme scheme lost its nuance and depth.  

In your native language, in conversations with your most intimate friends, is not something of your heart lost even in the simplest of statements? Is not there a hidden loneliness in knowing that even with the most precise words, they will never enter your experience with the fullness of understanding you yearn for, for them to take your hand, look at you with eyes unblurred by the lens of their own experience, and say, “I know”?

But our Divine Translation is the intimacy we long for, the precision of His understanding unmatched because because the translator is also the Creator—He knows how to speak to each heart because He spoke our hearts to life in the first place.

The truth of God, His mind, His heart, His message, translated into our flesh-language, the language of skin that bristles in the cold, is singed by the fire, that stretches, wrinkles, dies.

The Word become flesh is a translation of eternal omnipresence into a finite house of human consciousness often clouded by hunger and cold and loneliness.

The Word become flesh is a translation of omnipotence into backaches and sweat and veins that open and leak life away.

The Word become flesh is beautifully inefficient. An efficient translation would trade nuance for speed and intimacy for numbers, but He chose to save us by growing up in obscurity, thirty years of humility in mundane labor, living an unseen life so similar to ours. Then, in His ministry, again and again He slowed and stopped to listen to the individual, embracing their story with compassion and speaking healing into it.

And today, He does the same. When I tell Him my tangled stories, He understands. When I accuse Him of injustice, He dissolves the lying lens of my own experience and gives me a glimpse of future glory. When temptation haunts, He reminds me that His flesh also prickled with the same desires while on the earth.

Yes, the Word who became flesh is the most breathtaking, precise translation of language ever accomplished. A translation so precise that it not only speaks the general language of humanity, but the language of each of our hearts, unknown even to our best friends, our family, our spouses. One that silences the incoherent, ugly syllables of this dark world and replaces them with the clear and beautiful poem of the true Light.


[1] Advokat Dyavola, “An Elegy for Passion,” https://advokatdyavola.wordpress.com/2012/05/07/an-elegy-for-passion/

3 comments

  1. And then there is the word created in us. I find it remarkable that we are God’s “poesie” (Eph. 2:10) — usually translated as handiwork or workmanship, but also used in Greek to describe poetry. That would make each of us a poem spoken by the Word that spoke all of creation. Wow!

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