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Thursday, November 6, 2014

Symbolic or Real?

One of the hardest Bible questions to answer is "Is this real or symbolic?" The question is intensified by the frequent addition of the word only to the word symbol. 

The 'spiritual' reading of Scripture (a term used by church Fathers) is deeper, less obvious, and more vital. It uses the word spirit to contrast with the more plain and literal in the same way we contrast the human spirit from the human body. So an example.

"I love you with all my heart!" We all know what that means, right? It is a declaration of total commitment. Now, how would you respond if someone were to say, "Do you mean that literally--the organ that pumps blood is the center of the love--or only symbolically?" The heart as the center of choice, desire, and the truest core of one's personhood is certainly a symbol. The beating, pumping heart is an organic machine with a lifetime limit of 120 years; the heart as personal core lasts an eternity.

With that in mind, let us revisit the 'waters' of yesterday's Psalm and ask what lies hidden deeper in the Psalm 24:1-2...
Let's hone in a bit on the verses to just these words "founded it upon the seas." In common usage, a single word can have various, unrelated meanings (something we emphasized a few weeks ago), well, in the Bible 'waters' is such a word. Frequently, waters are a reference to enemy invasions, enemies of God and persecutions. Like Psalm 32:6; 46:2; 69:1-2&14-15; 124:4-5; 144:7;and 2 Sam 22:5. The Gentiles were like a chaotic water and the creation account (God bringing order out of the chaos; separating light and dark) is in a sense a description of salvation history. Salvation is always a new creation, right? God reached into human chaos and called out a people (Israel) and filled them with His presence and truth (light) as His own special people (when Jesus said, "you are the light of the world" He was talking to  Jews!). That is a deeper reading. That God is establishing His people (i.e. His rule, His Kingdom) in the midst of a world resistant to Him.

So a deeper, spiritual reading of Psalm 24 is that we celebrate God's victory over anti-christ (those spiritual, human and natural powers set against God's rule). It is a declaration of our faith/hope/trust in the face of uncertainties and observable data which seems to negate our belief. God founded it upon the seas means there is a sure foundation, and it is God, and the seas (all God's enemies) are submitted to Him.

Did I see this when I read that Psalm yesterday? No. In fact I stumbled across the water references preparing a class on the Apocalypse and reading all those references to the sea/water. But I see it now, the dots got connected. And now I hope it is connected for you. And I hope you never, ever say, "is it real or only symbolic?"

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