Peter Enns, has an informative and thought-provoking post over at The Biologos Forum blog on Jesus the Artist. Enns writes,
Speaking in parables is indeed similar to an artist's craft. Neither are systematic, logical arguments aimed at intellectual persuasion. Rather, they create impressions, whole new worlds of meaning intended to turn old worlds on their heads. Further, they do not always clarify, but actually can by design obscure a deeper reality. To apprehend that deeper reality, one must-- like a patron facing a timeless painting--continue to seek, ponder, and meditate on what is being said.
Parables are radical pieces of communication meant to disorient the hearers and then reorient them to an entirely new way of thinking. The reason Jesus does so much story telling is because stories-- not debate or other "proofs"-- are best suited for such a whole scale reorientation. Jesus' preaching, after all, was about the kingdom of heaven (or of God). This kingdom was not about where one goes after death, but a here-and-now transformation of how people thought about God and their relationship to him.
As I read Pete's post, one of my favorite thinkers came to mind-- Søren Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard was a sophisticated philosopher and theologian; and he was also a storyteller. Enns writes, "Sometimes the best way to get an idea across is to paint a verbal picture, which is precisely what Jesus does in the parables." And Kierkegaard follows Jesus in like fashion in his writings.
Kierkegaard tell several stories to illustrate that the Danish Church of his day failed in the extreme to practice what it preached:
We are assembled in a magnificent cathedral. His lordship, the right reverend count preacher, adorned with many titles, the chosen favorite of the highest circles of society, steps forward to preach. Standing before a chosen circle of the elite, he preaches under stress of deep feeling upon a text he himself has selected: 'God had chosen the base things that are of the world and the things that are despised.' And nobody laughs.
The story is told of a Swedish clergyman, that, upset by seeing the emotional effect of his sermon upon his auditors, who were flooded with tears, he said to quiet them: 'Do not weep my children, it might all be a lie.' Why does the preacher omit to say this nowadays? It is not necessary; we all know it, for we are all preachers. We do indeed weep; and both the tears of the preacher and our own may be quite sincere and heart-felt, in no way hypocritical-- precisely as in the theatre!
One of my favorite parables of Søren is "The Domestic Goose: A Moral Tale." In the parable Kierkegaard talks about a flock of geese who went to church to worship every Sunday. Essentially the sermon was the same every week. The goose minister would talk about geese and the glorious destiny that was in store for them. The Creator had made them to fly and this was indeed quite a noble thing. Every time the Maker's name was mentioned, the geese curtsied and the ganders bowed their heads. They were to fly to distant pastures because while on this earth they were merely sojournors.
Of course, all this talk of flying was not taken seriously. In fact, the geese were so well fed that they lost the ability to fly a long time ago. They were too fat to fly. Ironically, the geese believed the reason their plumpness was God's blessing upon them. There were some geese among them who indeed attempted to fly. This was not easy for them; and they were looked upon by the majority as strange and fanatical.
So next Sunday all the geese went to church againt to hear the same glorious sermon about the glorious and noble destiny they had as those who could fly. And after the sermon, as after all the sermons, the geese said, "Amen!" Then they all waddled home. "And the same is true," says, SK, "of divine worship in Christianity."
Kierkegaard tells many other stories in order paint verbal pictures of doctrine, morality, and the social conundrums of his day. The point here is that art and science, word and picture, equation and story cannot be neatly separated, and neither should we try. Enn's observes,
Jesus himself communicated the deep mysteries of a new way of being through the use of such things as vivid imagery, symbolism, metaphors, and other devices common to artistic expression. In fact, the incarnation, God in human flesh, is not a debate or argument about the nature of God that appeals primarily to the intellect. It is a vivid-- and true-- demonstration, a portrait, of a radically new and mysterious way of thinking about God, the world, and our place in it.
In other words, the story does not have a point; the story is the point. Any attempt to separate the parable from "the point" is to miss the point and distort reality. Jesus understood that well.
And so did his disciple-- Søren Kierkegaard.
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