Monday, April 25, 2011

Literal vs. Figurative

One reason some churches are considered liberal is their view of the Bible. Did everything (EVERYTHING) historically happen in the Bible? Who decides?

Now we know that Jesus spoke in parables. A parable is a story that speaks a truth, a spiritual and moral truth. The story of the prodigal son did not literally happen, it was story told by Jesus to get the listener to ask: “What?” The excellence of Jesus’ parables is that we can put ourselves into the story and discover a truth about ourselves.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Did God literally create the earth in 6 days? (Abraham Heschel would say that God created on the seventh day too, on that day He created rest, Sabbath) Or is there another truth we miss in this story? From this story we see a God that creates and shapes a world into existence. He creates in a specific order. He separates the chaotic from the ordered. He creates the plants and the animals and places them in just the right place. And then He creates humans and places them in the middle of this perfect, and orderly creation. And He hangs out with us. Our God is not a distant god that creates on accident, or makes mistakes. Our God is near, and desires a relationship with us.

I wrestle with the narrative of David and Goliath. Did this battle really happen? Or is there another truth that we miss from the story? We all face battles. From this story we are told that David faced the lion, the bear and the champion Goliath and won those battles. Did he do it alone? For me the story says that when you are in a battle and the odds are against you, God hears your cries.

I do not have a checklist close at hand to decide if a passage is literal or figurative. There are passages I hold as I literal and there are passages I hold as figurative. Both types speak truth. Does that make me a liberal? I praise God that he has given me the freedom, liberty to explore those amazing stories and to allow me to place myself into His continuing narrative.

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