I attended a Christian college that had as one of its cornerstone values – a clear presentation of the gospel. It always made me wonder if there was a Christian college somewhere out there that held the expressed value of an obfuscated presentation of the gospel . . . as if clarity weren’t already a baseline value when communicating. Theological particularities, notwithstanding – everyone always assumes they’re speaking clearly. But consider for a moment that one of the leading causes for divorce is the lack of communication – two people with every intention of sharing a life together, who still can’t seem to find a way to communicate with one another. No doubt, each one would have thought they were making themselves clear.
If you’ve ever heard someone say that “it’s literally raining cats and dogs out there!” – you likely didn’t jump up out of your chair and run to a window to witness this wild spectacle of household pets dropping from the sky. You probably took their use of the word literal as just a measure of emphasis, given that it was paired with such a conspicuous metaphor . . . and not as a measure of factual events. So ironically, even the word literal is subject to an idiomatic interpretation – that in fact, an interpretation is all any of us can offer one another, based on our own frame of reference . . . because our understanding of everything can only ever be an interpretation.
The atheist believes that a materialist understanding of the universe is the only literal interpretation that can explain reality, as we all experience it. Therefore, any explanation that involves a metaphysical (spiritual beliefs) framing of the universe, is denounced as less than literal, and is thereby less than credible. But such a forensic empiricism is simply an interpretation that relies on the belief that everything that exists can be measured – which only begs the question: Exactly how did they come to that conclusion . . . when such a conclusion can’t be deduced empirically? In truth, their conclusion is nothing more than a self-affirming circular argument – intent on arriving at a predetermined result.
In this way, we are all tempted to assume that the context within which we make our own interpretations of reality, is the clearest understanding of reality – and becomes the very substance of all of the things we choose to believe are true . . . as if all that is literally true could be so subjectively determined. So all too often, I fear Christians end up sharing the very same lack of humility that atheists do in entertaining things too wonderful for them to comprehend, by reducing them into explainable self-affirming conclusions that end up having no real interest in what might be actually true.
In the parable of the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Jesus concludes with this statement “ . . . For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14) The Pharisee was convince that his interpretation of what God was looking for was indisputable, while all the tax-collector knew for sure was that he was in great need of God’s mercy. So we would all do well to recognize that the only literal interpretation we require — is the one where we confess our own need for God’s grace and loving mercy . . . may that be your true confession today.
. . . as if it could simply be read in plain letters.