Today, I’m really glad to bring you my blogging friend, Zack, author of the fantastic blog, The American Jesus. Read, comment, and then go follow his blog and his Twitter. I’ll be back on Monday, July 30.
Did God really create the world in only six days?
Was Noah really able to squeeze two of every animal on earth into the ark?
Are the streets of heaven really paved with gold?
Answer any of these questions the “wrong” way among the right group of people and you’re likely to get yourself into a world of trouble. After all, something is either “true” or it’s not, right?
But what does it mean for something to be “true”? If a Biblical story isn’t a historical account of something that can be documented through archeology, does that necessarily make it not true?
Many of the battles lines in the church today seem to be drawn around how this issue of how we should interpret a given passage from scripture. In other words, should the Bible be read “literally” or “metaphorically”?
When Literal Just Won’t Do
The answer, of course, is both. However, the implication of such a question often is that if one reads a passage of scripture metaphorically, then that person doesn’t believe it, or subsequently the Bible, to be “true.” Truth, it is then argued, can only be found in a “plain” or literal reading of the Bible.
I’m not convinced that is the case.
Not only is there truth to be found in metaphors, but to read the Bible as if every passage is intended to be read “literally” as an exact representation of history renders it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to hear the actual “truth” of the Bible.
The “truth” is that metaphors aren’t just a good thing. They are a desperately important tool for communicating “truth” which literal expressions can’t fully express. Metaphors give expression to those things which even our wildest imagination cannot fully comprehend.
How do you “literally” describe heaven, the presence of the Spirit, or the nature of God?
You do not.
This is why we need metaphors, to communicate truths that transcend our ability to talk about them. Likewise, the Bible uses metaphors, not because a thing isn’t true, but because it’s truth is so true and so real that it defies our ability to put that truth into words. It is only through such metaphors that we are able to glimpse through a mirror dimly the mystery of God and the beauty of heaven.
What Is Truth?
So, the question inevitable becomes then, “what is truth?”
Truth is staring us right in the face.
Truth is Jesus.
As the way, the truth, and the life, Jesus directs us beyond the truth of the way things are and towards the truth of what they should be. This is the Truth found in the Bible and all of its many stories, both “literal” and metaphorical.
Truth is not bound by historical circumstance. The truth of Jesus is something which refuses to be hijacked by those who seek to exhaust it through their own cultural context or personal interpretation.
It’s the openness that scares fundamentalism because it refuses to allow Truth to be held captive to one single interpretation or incarnation.
The Truth Is Out There
Certainly, the Bible is filled with historical information and literal accounts of what “actually” happened. After all, as Paul said, if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then we are the biggest of fools.
The “truth” of Biblical stories and the metaphors they so often employ lies in their ability to point to the Truth, to Jesus. It doesn’t matter how long it took God to create. The truth is that God loved us enough to create us. The truth of Noah’s ark isn’t found in zoological physics, but in a God who watches over us in the midst of the storm. And even the most beautiful, eloquent description of heaven could not capture the truth that God is preparing a perfect place for God’s people which defies even our greatest expectations.
Metaphorical or literal, Truth can found on every page of the Bible. We just need to know where to look.
What do you think? Have we lost the truth in the search for “literal?” Or do metaphors open a Pandora’s box of doubt?