The Bible is full of figurative language. Scripture contains similes, metaphors, parables, allegories, irony, and even sarcasm to speak God’s message to the people. Heaven is described using figurative language. I was wondering why God chose to speak to us that way and before I knew it, those thoughts became this blog post.
God speaks to us as a Father to a child using language we can understand. The most exciting thing about heaven is that God had so little vocabulary we would understand to describe it. Heaven is almost nothing like earth. Jesus said he was going to prepare a mansion for us. Heaven will be the finest home we have ever owned. There won’t be sadness, suffering, discrepancies or delusions – only purity and truth. Heaven is indescribably real and that is what the Lord wanted us to know.
There are others great truths that God wanted us to know and he communicated those ideas with figurative language that could understand.
God wanted Israel to understand how he felt when they worshipped the things of this world. God asked Hosea to marry a prostitute, Gomer, and used those feelings of betrayal to describe how he felt about the love his people had for earthly idols.
Jesus described Satan as a wolf, seeking whom he may devour, to illustrate the need Christians have to seek God’s protection from the evil things of this world.
Jesus described the Pharisees as hypocrites or actors. He told his disciples not to be like them. Jesus wanted his children to live with a witness of genuine faith.
Psalm 131 describes a peaceful soul as a “weaned child within.” We are at peace with God when we do not seek him for what we can get, but instead seek him simply because we enjoy his presence.
Jesus said that he was the light of the world and then described his followers that same way. Light in the first century meant that a person could safely navigate a path through the dark and find their way home. Jesus used light to describe our purpose as his disciples. We have the ability to share the gospel and help others find their way through this life to their eternal home.
Jesus said he was the shepherd and we are the sheep. We should never overestimate our own abilities if we understand that metaphor. Sheep can’t survive without a shepherd and we can’t survive without Jesus. Thankfully Jesus also told the parable of the lost sheep. We may be a bunch of sheep, but Jesus loves us enough to come after each one of us, even when we wander off.
Psalm 78 describes God as our Rock and Redeemer. Today, men can move almost any rock that gets in their way but that was not true of the psalmist’s times. Many rocks were immovable and could not be shaken. God described himself with that metaphor.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me will not hunger, and he who believes in me will never thirst” (John 6). Bread and water in the first century meant survival, comfort and the ability to live. Jesus told his followers that they needed to realize that he was all of those things eternally.
In many ways, the most important metaphor was displayed in the life of Jesus. God will never be understandable. The only way to know God is by faith. Israel had begun to fashion gods out of things like wood and clay and they worshipped them. So God made one final choice to step into this world and allow people to know him. He sent his Son, God-incarnate to a manger in Bethlehem. His Son lived a perfect life and became the perfect sacrifice. Revelation 13 describes Jesus as the Lamb, who was slain before the creation of the earth.
Someday we will arrive in heaven and realize that everything we see and experience is new and indescribable with an earthly vocabulary. I’m grateful that God used illustrations we could understand to give us a glimpse of eternity.
1 Corinthians 13:12 reads: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” First century mirrors were nothing like mirrors today. The image reflected in an ancient mirror was blurred and distorted. We can’t see or understand him clearly – yet. But we know enough to know he is there, and that knowledge will have to do for now.
God can’t tell us more, because we don’t own vocabulary for the things of heaven but I’m thankful for the earthly hints found in my Bible. I wish he had told us more but, then again, what good is technological vocabulary to a two-year-old? They, like us, are better off with the piece of bread.