Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Illustrations and Analogies

How are we to understand the descriptions of God in Scripture? Are they literal or figurative? There are those who claim we can know nothing about God except by analogy. On the other extreme, there are those who see God in a highly physical manner. There are also sceptics who take this view as a basis for rejecting God, claiming He is nothing more than a glorified man. What is the correct understanding?

God as God is not visible to human beings (1 Timothy 1:17; 6:16; Exodus 33:19,20). This is one of the reasons that God became a man in Jesus Christ, that we might know what God is like (John 1:18; 14:9; Colossians 1:15). But God as God is a nonphysical Being who transcends our physical world (Jeremiah 23:24; John 4:24;  Luke 24:39). Now there are places where the Scripture uses analogies to describe our relationship with God. However, it is frequently clear these are analogies. We do not see a hand coming down from heaven to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 13:3). Nor do we expect to see the eyes of the Lord running about on the earth (2 Chronicles 16:9). Nor does it make sense He would literally have wings (Psalms 91:4). Also, God appears in various forms. This makes sense if He is going to meet with us. Sometimes He appears in a human form, which is, in my understanding, generally the Son, in anticipation of His becoming man (Genesis 18:1-22; Joshua 5:13-15; Isaiah 6:1-3). But He also appears in a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6), a pillar of fire and cloud (Exodus 13:21), or a thick cloud and fire (Exodus 19:16-18). However, this does not mean He is physical by nature.

But with personality traits this become more complicated. We are told to love because God loves (1 John 4:19) and to be holy because He is holy (1 Peter 1:14-16). Also, we are called to be like Christ and like God in our behavior (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29; Colossians 3:10), which makes no sense if there is no connection between the two. And it is the moral nature of God that Jesus became man to reveal. However, there are things in Scripture that appear to be descriptions given to help us understand God, even if they do not reflect His inner nature (Jonah 3 :10; Genesis 6:6; Exodus 32:14). But it is often difficult to know exactly where literal understanding ends and analogy begins. I am reminded of C. S. Lewis's picture of a dog observing human life. Some things would be true parallels, while other things could only be understood by analogy. I would therefore argue for humility. While it is important to know about God, it is necessary to realize we cannot fully understand Him (Romans 11:33; Isaiah 55:9; 1 Corinthians 3:18). But it is more important to know God through Jesus Christ than to understand everything about Him (Philippians 3:7-11; Jeremiah 9:23,24; Matthew 7:21-23).

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