Metaphors, Analogies, and Truth

Posted on May 23, 2004

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The importance of metaphors and analogies in matters of truth is grievously underestimated, I think.  Spiritual lessons, conversational and counseling clarity, the communication of biblical realities, and the quest to mentally grasp indescribable spiritual concepts – all of these and more are benefited immensely by the use of metaphors and analogies.

A few examples:

(1) Faith-driven confidence in the guaranteed provision of God for our daily needs can and ought to be produced, according to Jesus, by the Spirit-led observation that our Father provides for the birds of the air and adorns the grass of the field, both of which are of little value compared to His children (Matthew 6:25-34).  This is beautiful.  What a teacher He was.  What a teacher He is.  And what spiritual eyes He saw with!  Open our eyes…

(2) My life is called “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).  Through this metaphor, as often as I meditate on it, I am encouraged to happily submit myself to the will of God for all my tomorrow’s (“if the Lord wills”) and to be ambitious and hard-working to the point of exhaustion in my labor for the kingdom, considering that both my own death and the return of Christ are right around the corner.  I have one life to live, and it is but a vapor.  O God, fire my soul with an unquenchable passion for your name so that I might not waste this vapor!

(3) I am warned in Hebrews 12:15 that the divisive sin of bitterness is like a root that springs up and pierces many with its thorny blossoms.  “See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springing up causes trouble, and by it many be defiled…”  To picture my bitterness against another person or against God’s ordained plan for my life as a labrynth of roots fingering out into the soft and damp soil of my sinful heart is frightening to say the least.  This is indeed a metaphor with which to battle my sin.  Dig the root out.  Sever it.  Do not under any circumstances let it spring up.  At any price, rid yourself of it!  The picture provides the lesson.

Father, You have been very gracious to Your children to provide us with lessons and representations and illustrations and analogies everywhere we look!  Give us eyes to see… this is becoming a life prayer.  When I look up and see the stars at night, let me see Your lovingkindness that is “as high as the heavens are above the earth” (Ps. 103:11).  When I walk along the beach, let me see ocean-defying, humbling power of God that says to the swelling tide, “Thus far you shall come, but no farther; and here shall your proud waves stop” (Job 38:11).  When I step over a trail of ants on the sidewalk, instead of hurrying past in my enslavement to the temporary, let me see a wise and diligent and unprocrastinating creature who has far less of a cause to expend all her energy than I do and yet who labors so much harder (Prov. 6:6-11).  When I see a misty sprinkler showering water over its appointed section of both flowers and weeds, let me see God’s common grace that He showers on both the righteous and the unrighteous (Matthew 5:45).  When I see the sunrise, let me be reminded to pray for my brothers and sisters with the prayer of Deborah and Barak, who said with stunningly picturesque beauty, “let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might” (Judges 5:31).

How much we would learn if we only had eyes to see!  These things are in every crack in the sidewalk, somewhere on every billboard, in every experience, in every facet of our Father’s world.

“This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ear, all nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.”  Everything in creation, whether made by God directly or indirectly through the agency of man – buildings, plants, language, personalities, animals, personal belongings, games – everything has in it a metaphor and an analogy and a lesson.  Listen to Jesus, listen to the prophets, listen to the psalmists.  See how they taught us.  See how they thought.  See how they saw.  Open our eyes, Father.

Perhaps my favorite line of any hymn is the third stanza of “The Love of God.”  Here is the clearest example that I can find of what it means to have your eyes open to God’s truth and the analogies that that truth ought to be adorned with.

Could we with ink the ocean fill, and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill, and every man a scribe by trade -
To write the love of God above would drain the ocean dry,
Nor could the scroll contain the whole though stretched from sky to sky.

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