Metaphors are not, by nature, concrete. They measure things that are difficult to measure with numbers. They say the things that are impossible to say.
They describe the reality between all the facts. If that sounds a bit wonky and imprecise, that’s because it is. Metaphors are easily misinterpreted, misapplied, and misunderstood. This is why, no matter how much experience or expertise any of us have with the prophetic, seeing in the spirit, or any other gift of the spirit, we must have the humility to accept that we always have the capacity to misunderstand, misapply, or misinterpret the things we hear, sense, and perceive.
Though some of you may be resistant to the idea of metaphor being a keystone of the language of heaven, it is a reality we are going to have to accept. God has consistently shown us that it is part of the way He wishes to present Himself, His kingdom, and His nature to us.
From the visions of the prophets in the Old Testament to the parables of Jesus to the open visions throughout the Book of Revelation, the Bible is absolutely brimming with metaphors. Some of the most horrendous biblical misinterpretations in history stemmed from someone misunderstanding the relationship between the literal and the metaphorical in these passages.
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You may not enjoy the potential for imprecision this creates, but it is clearly a fundamental part of God’s design for communicating to us. Though I am hesitant to speculate why He would design things this way, I had an experience with one of my kids that gave me a small picture of why this might be.
A Small Picture
One night I was driving home with my son in the back seat. He was three years old and getting very adept at using his newfound skill of speaking to ask questions about absolutely everything. It was nearly dark, and it just so happened that when we pulled into our driveway, the trees in our front yard almost perfectly framed the light of the full moon. I watched my son in the rear-view mirror as he looked up and saw the moon; his little nose twitched as he formed the question in his growing mind.
“Dad?” “Yeah, son?” “How does the moon work?”
Now, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed this about me yet, but I am a big fan of science. So when my son asks me an open question about the moon, a filing cabinet in my brain shoots open and everything from my third-grade trifold presentation on the moon to a PowerPoint presentation I did in high school comes flying out.
What I Wanted to Say
I thought about telling him how the moon affects the tides as well as the earth’s orbit around the sun. I thought about telling him about the moon’s synchronous rotation with the earth, and how it caused the same side of the moon to always be facing the earth’s surface. I thought about telling him how earthquakes on the moon are called moonquakes, how perilous the first moon landing was, and how much lighter he would be if he was standing on its surface. As I lined up all the sweet moon facts I was about to drop in my son’s lap, I looked back at his adorably eager face and realized something. If I threw all my knowledge about the moon at him, he would probably be overwhelmed. He did not have the secondary knowledge and context needed to understand most of what I had to say. In fact, if I just dumped it all on him, he may not ask again next time.
I waited for a moment and considered how to tell him as much information about how the moon works as was possible, based on where he was at, what he could handle. As I went through this brief mental exercise, I had a sudden realization: “This is what God does with us constantly.”
The Mysteries of God
The gap between my knowledge and my son’s was nothing compared to the gap between my knowledge and God’s. God has an understanding and context that is infinitely larger than mine. Maybe some of the questions I ask Him, the mysteries I am baffled by, and the things I perceive as inconsistencies are just like my son asking me how the moon works.
Maybe the places where the Bible uses metaphor are the places where the limits of human capacity would prevent us from being able to even begin to conceptualize the true answer. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is so vast, beautiful, and complex that Jesus was only able to tell us in parables what it is like.
The Language of Heaven
Being comfortable with mystery and willing to pursue understanding through the limits of metaphor is essential to learning the language of heaven. We are dealing with a being who is beyond the scope of our human experience but, thankfully, one who has invited us to know Him. Just like the oversimplified answer I ended up giving to my son when he asked how the moon works, God is not being aloof or vague out of malice or a lack of care. I believe that He desires for us to know as much of who He is as possible. I think that metaphor and mystery are key parts of the language of heaven because learning He is unknowable is part of learning to know Him. It is a strange dichotomy but one we must learn to engage if we want to know God more.
Blake K. Healy