Dennis McCarty

Dennis McCarty

My two favorite Bible translations are the King James and the Oxford Study Bible.

I’ve met people surprised by the word “translation.” But, yep, the Old Testament, or “Hebrew Bible,” as scholars call it, was first written in Hebrew. New Testament writers used Koine Greek. Every English language Bible is a translation.

The 1611 King James translation is beautifully poetic. But the Oxford Study Bible is more accurate — truer to what the original Scriptures actually said.

Take the phrase from Deuteronomy and Matthew, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.” That’s a flowery, 1611 way of saying “You are not to put the Lord your God to the test,” the Oxford Study Bible’s wording.

Scientists and the faithful should all be able to agree on that. After all, science is about things that can tested and proven. Faith is about those things that go deeper than what we can scientifically explain.

Where we get into trouble is when we carelessly mix the two. Or more important, when we foolishly ask God to get us out of some pickle we shouldn’t have gotten into in the first place.

One example from history was the morning of June 25, 1876. Six Crow scouts with Col. George Custer’s 7th Cavalry climbed a hill near their camp. Looking down the Little Bighorn River valley, 10 miles away, they saw dust rising from a huge camp of Lakota and Cheyenne.

They knew the landscape. They knew the Lakota and Cheyenne as fighters. Half-Yellow-Face, the Crow scouts’ leader, warned Custer the camp was too big to attack.

But they had just joined Custer’s unit. Custer didn’t trust any “Indian” he didn’t know. He also had no respect for the Lakota or Cheyenne. He actually worried they might run away before he could kill enough of them to claim a victory.

So he laughed off the warning. Half-Yellow-Face’s reply echoes down the pages of history. If Custer attacked, “Tonight we will go home by a road we do not know.” That was his poetic, Crow way of saying, they would enter the mystery on the other side of death.

Everyone knows how that story turned out. Custer split his men into three groups. The ones who made it out alive later said they did a lot of praying. Maybe their prayers were answered, but Custer’s weren’t. Nor were those of the men with him. They were wiped out.

Now we’re on another “road we do not know,” the world of the coronavirus. As with Custer, it isn’t because no one warned us.

Scientists have long predicted that the ability of viruses to quickly mutate and evolve, combined with huge poultry and livestock markets around the world, would produce a global pandemic.

I even preached a sermon on this 15 years ago, in 2005. The scientific article I quoted observed that it wasn’t a question of “if,” only “when.”

Unfortunately, wealthy western democracies — who had the most resources — failed to listen to scientists’ warnings. In fact, the United States not only failed to prepare by increasing medical facilities and testing capacity, we actually reduced funding and personnel. “Too expensive,” we said.

Now we’re learning what “too expensive” really means.

We’ve foolishly gotten into a situation we were warned about for decades. We can pray for salvation, now, from our lack of foresight. But I doubt the coronavirus is going to listen.

We can only hope we learn something by the time this is over: It’s unwise to ignore warnings, get into situations we ought to avoid, then ask God to get us out of them.

The Rev. Dennis McCarty is a Unitarian Universalist minister, writer and lecturer.

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