I was reminded again in my morning reading of the beauty of following Jesus. It’s something that is never far from my mind but which is always bursting through the crust of everyday life with new freshness like a blooming tulip in the Spring while the landscape all around it is still gray and brown with dirty snow unmelted in the shady edges.
I am also painfully aware of the presence of something quite different when I read the words of Jesus: a gap. I am stabbed by the realization that Jesus not only spoke a different language than me but that he used words very differently than I was taught to.
Then Jesus told them, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and don’t doubt, you can do things like this and much more. You can even say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. Matthew 21:21 NLT
I was taught to be literal. I was told Jesus was actually saying that if you had enough faith you could do anything! Nothing was impossible. I had, coincidentally, never heard the world ‘hyperbole’ before.
Now it seems so clear. Jesus spoke in parables and Jesus spoke parabolically. He was not a philosopher or a scientist in our modern sense. I have blogged recently about a better way to read the Bible and I think that this fits in with that.
Jesus was not telling us that we could rearrange the topography of our region. He was not telling us that we could reorganize our geological and geographical surroundings.
I feel bad for anyone who has prayed about something – or even ‘claimed’ something – and thinks that it is their fault that it didn’t happen because they didn’t have enough faith. I am horrified that we have taught people to read the Bible this way. In trying to be exacting and literal – in an enlightenment/ modern sort of way – we have warped the message of the Bible to be something that it was never meant to be.
It’s a tough one. Whenever I tell people that Jesus did not mean that we would literally move mountains with just a little bit of faith, one of two reactions happens.
- they tell me a story about this one time that some people they never met in place they have never been did it.
- they say something about taking the Bible literally and how I am making it allegory.
The second one really gets me. Because parable is not allegory. Allegory would be like taking the story about the widow who used three cups of flour to make bread and asserting that the three cups of flour represent the three continents that the apostles would take Jesus’ message to: Asia, Africa and Europe.
Allegory is very elaborate. Reading the Bible poetically, prophetically or parabolically makes in simpler – not more elaborate.
I used the example of a person finding out that there is no Santa Clause and the Jesus was not born on December 25th and concluding that Christmas, if it is not literal, has no meaning. They, of course, would be wrong.
So it is with casting mountains into seas by faith. Jesus was using hyperbole to make a point. That does not steal from it meaning, it points like a sign to the real meaning.
September 19, 2011 at 6:46 pm
Bo- great thought. I just stumbled upon your blog. I agree it is when we read that literally that we give us more power than we have. We place the weight of responsibility solely on us to “have faith” then when things don’t happen we begin the blame game. Ok yes we have a responsibility to continue to grow there are things that God graciously gives us to participate with Him in. But really how much ‘power’ do we think we have.
September 19, 2011 at 6:52 pm
You have asked the BIG question! Listen, I get hammered for holding this view. Some people will say that I am not compromising the authority of the Bible, others will say that I am not moving in the authority of the believer and relying too much on my own understanding.
But you are right… we have to think about this differently!
September 19, 2011 at 7:49 pm
Sarah and Bo,
I’m very interested in this idea of power in us and/or through us. A derivative of this question may be: how does the power of Christ work in/through us?
We look at the Gospel of Mark and Jesus is telling his followers to utilize the power of God in their work. In Mark 9, when Jesus encounters the man whose son is overcome with seizures that throw him into fires (which is a discussion in and of itself), and he says to Jesus: “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” Jesus comes back with “If you are able!-All things can be done for the one who believes.” Of course the oft-quoted response is, “I believe, help my unbelief!”
How are we to read the miraculous? I know you’ve written on miracles before, but we still have these stories of Christ and his followers healing, casting out demons, performing miracles. Has the power of Christ “through us” changed since then? Are we reading the text wrong?
September 20, 2011 at 4:27 am
I like having “permission” to acknowledge hyperbole and love the direction of this post. I’m also happy to reject the idea of God as puppetmaster. I am still utterly compelled (with everything in me) to leave space for the miraculous. Throw me a bone!
September 20, 2011 at 7:07 pm
I believe in the miraculous. I think you just about have to in order to be some kind of ‘biblical’ reader.
I just want to be clear. That does not mean the supernatural. Those are not the same thing! Super-natural is a total worldview that comes with all sorts of other attachments and implications. One can hold the door open for miracles and not have to subscribe to all that come with a ‘super-natural’ view.
You can also believe in the miraculous and not think that Jesus said we could literally move mountains by talking to them. What do you think?
I think that I will write a quick post tomorrow talking about this and then tackle the allegory thing on Friday.
September 21, 2011 at 5:17 am
I think I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s post, when I expect you will flesh out what this looks like. I witness the miraculous on a regular basis, and I believe that sometimes the miracle is in the design (say of the organism or the ecosystem), but think there is something more that you may define as natural and others may see as “supernatural” (and yes, I remember that you don’t believe anything is supernatural). I am not a fan of the idea that miracles happen for show (throwing mountains into the sea?). It seems inconsistent with the nature of Jesus. I’m just looking for more flesh on the skeleton of my understanding….
September 21, 2011 at 10:44 pm
So I posted a response these comments! https://bosanders.wordpress.com/2011/09/21/signs-that-make-you-wonder/
September 22, 2011 at 1:35 am
Like this… and agree with this… Hyperbole matters so much in the Gospels and the rhetoric patterns of Jesus.