Parable and Perspective – TJ Tolle
At the beginning of last semester, Zach and I started a study of a book by CS Lewis called Mere Christianity. If you’re not familiar with it, the manuscript was originally delivered as three separate radio addresses during World War II, a time when Lewis felt that his native England was drifting from community with God, and had adopted a skewed idea of what it means to be a “Christian.” Recognizing this, Lewis decided to remind his audience, in the simplest terms, of the beliefs “common to nearly all Christians at all times.” He begins with the most basic idea, the sense of Right and Wrong, and goes deeper and deeper into the truths of Christianity. It’s a really fantastic book, and I highly recommend it (I’ll even let you borrow my copy).
But I’m not concerned with the surface content of this book. Yes, it’s full of the beautiful truths of the Christian faith as well as helpful advice in applying them, but as we continued through the book we noticed a common device in each and every chapter: Metaphor. CS Lewis had a wonderful gift for making extremely difficult and abstract topics simple enough for children to understand through his use of clever comparisons. There’s a reason Lewis is counted among the greatest children’s authors of all time. He takes a concept as challenging as morality and obedience of the Mosaic Law, and compares it to a child doing arithmetic. You do not deserve “to be congratulated,” he says, “because… you try to get it quite right.”
I think this use of simple metaphor really gets at something innate about literature throughout all of recorded history: Fiction. For thousands of years, people have been telling each other stories, making up people, places, things, and events in order to teach one another. Fictitious stories give us the unique opportunity to gain an outsider’s perspective on our own situations by changing the names, places, and things. Not being able to recognize ourselves in a story lets us examine ourselves truly and honestly.
CS Lewis understood this. God understands this even better.
All throughout the Bible there are numerous examples of people learning lessons not through personal experience, but through short illustrative pieces of fiction called Parables. The most famous of these came from Jesus in the New Testament, but several examples can be found as early as the book of Judges.
One of my personal favorites comes from 2 Samuel 12. King David has just committed murder, sending his loyal soldier Uriah to die on the front lines of battle so that David’s adultery with Uriah’s wife would go undiscovered. Feeling safe in the success of his cover-up, God sends the prophet Nathan with this parable for David:
“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
Ignorantly, David says, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.”
“You are the man!”
I don’t know about you, but those first words from Nathan’s reply cut deeper than any knife ever could. It’s hard to imagine the pit that formed in David’s stomach when he heard those words. This moment breaks my heart, not only out of sympathy for David, but also because I recognize myself here. I am a sinner. I cover up my transgressions. I hide my struggles away and believe that will make them disappear.
I am the man.
Would the effect have been the same if Nathan had confronted David about his sin directly? I don’t believe so. David already knew what he did was wrong; that was why he tried to hide it in the first place. David needed to understand God’s perspective. He needed to know the righteous anger of God, and see why it was directed against himself. Seeing the situation through God’s eyes allowed David to come to a place of repentance and return to the way of the Lord.
This is the point I have been driving towards: we need God’s perspective in our lives. Without it, we stray from His path, we lose His direction.
So how do we get God’s perspective?
Firstly, we dive into God’s Word. The Bible is rife with stories like the one above. The people recorded in Scripture didn’t exist in a vacuum. Their lives were written down for our benefit. Look to the people that God gave His guidance to, and recognize where your needs and failures line up with theirs. This doesn’t only apply to the narrative passages of scripture. As 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” Every line of His Word has some perspective to offer on the situations of our lives.
Second, we get God’s perspective from Prayer. Direct communication with our Creator is an incredible privilege that we ought to take every advantage of. Jesus himself says in Mark 11:24, “whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” If we faithfully ask God for direction and guidance in our lives, He is equally faithful to give it to us.
Finally, we get God’s perspective from Christian community. We are all created to be a part of the body, all “made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12). We are called to give spiritual guidance, to “bear one another’s burdens,” and to restore those who wander in a “spirit of gentleness” (Galatians 6). If we want to fully follow in God’s direction for our lives, seeking and providing Christian community is essential to that pursuit.
I hope what I’ve written here today has been impactful for you. I pray that each one of you who reads this remembers that we aren’t in this life alone. God is faithful through His Word, through your Prayers, and through His community of believers. He is faithful to give you the perspective and guidance you need to return to His path from wherever you have strayed.
Love you guys.