The Metaphorically Challenged

Here is a quotation from an atheist, explaining why he decided Christian faith is nothing but superstition:

We now know that our brain is the seat of thinking and of our emotions.  Modern artificial heart transplants now adequately debunk these beliefs, for we can do just fine without our own hearts.  Therefore, it is nonsensical to believe in a “sinful heart” or in asking Jesus “into our hearts.”

Well.  There you have it.  Purge your bookshelves of poetry; tell the Tin Man to quit looking for a heart; and no more country music either: the “achy breaky heart” is just a primitive superstition.

Now here is a quote from radio preacher John McArthur,

Genesis 1 teaches that the earth was created about 6000 years ago in six literal, 24-hour days, exactly as it exists now, with no kind of evolution in any form.  Either you believe it or you don’t.

The problem is that Genesis 1 describes the creation of the sun on day four, after the first three “evenings and mornings.”  So those first three days cannot be exactly the same kind of days that exist now.

What do the atheist and the literalist preacher have in common?  They have no appreciation for literary subtlety, for metaphor.  Genesis 1 is a beautiful and carefully structured account of the creation of the heavens and the earth.  The main theme is that by God’s blessing the earth brings forth life in all its variety, and it’s all good.

The book of Jonah is another beautifully crafted story that literalists–either of the believing or unbelieving variety–fail to appreciate.  They argue over the possibility of a whale, or a “great fish,” swallowing a man; and they miss the main point: God desires peace and reconciliation.  He would rather see a violent and arrogant evil empire repent and turn to the ways of peace than to see it destroyed.

The book of Jonah is full of humor and irony.  Image dressing cattle and chickens in sackcloth and forcing them to fast and pray.  Imagine a prophet becoming depressed over his own success.  Imagine a man who grieves over a whithered vine but who can spare no compassion for 120,000 human beings who do not know their right hand from their left.