Biblical Imagery: A Simple Antidote

I will always remember the first time I fell in love with the Bible. I don’t remember how young I was, maybe fifth or sixth grade. I was sitting in bed as my Dad tucked me in at night. Maybe I was asking a question about the Sunday School lesson that I heard that day. Or maybe I was confused over something that I read in the Bible. I don’t remember exactly what I asked, but I will always remember his strange response. He told me a story:

“Sarah,” he stated calmly, “Do you know that Yellowstone is a super volcano and when it erupts it will end America?”

I think my face must have crinkled, “Umm . . . I didn’t know that. That’s kind of scary.”

He smiled back at me, but kept going. “Imagine that Yellowstone Park erupted today and buried half the United States in lava. Imagine that the rest of the country perished due to starvation as ash covered the continent. Civilization would cease and it would be decades before plants could grow again. Imagine that after the destruction no one came back to the US for hundreds of years. In fact, imagine that our English language is lost, our culture forgotten, and our artifacts buried deep in the earth. Imagine that the internet was forgotten and our way of life passed out of existence.”

This was getting pretty heavy for my pre-teen self – but I kept listening.

“Then, imagine that 2,000 years from now a group of excavators come to  former America and dig through the ash only to find a perfectly preserved man holding a briefcase. As they take the briefcase to some world-class museum, an underpaid archaeologist discovers a Sports Illustrated magazine inside. With nothing but an outdated English dictionary in their hand, the ancient linguistic experts translate the following headline:

Cardinals annihilate Giants: Mvp Johnson sacrificed himself and Gomez stole home

“What comes to mind, Sarah?”

I giggled and cuddled my teddy bear closer to my chest. Because I could picture it. I could picture the baseball players with their unique uniforms. I could picture the play that the most valuable player did. I can picture the second out being called on Johnson just so Gomez could slide into home base. I could picture the rowdy crowd cheering as they clutched beer and peanuts a the bottom of the ninth.

But I could also picture something else.

I closed my eyelids and I saw red birds rise from out of the springtime treetops and zoom across open plains to a clan of overgrown hairy men, 20 feet tall. Then my overactive imagination witnessed these hairy  giants swinging bulky clubs at the tiny red creatures who pecked and clawed at their eyeballs. Then the miraculous happened – hundreds of pecking creatures subdued the slow giants. It was in this moment that I pictured the literal letters “MVP” take a knife to the heart of Johnson. And as Johnson looked back at his friend, Gomez broke into a wooden house and stole the treasure inside. The vision that was dancing on my eyelids must have shown on my face because when I opened my eyes my Dad asked,

“Why do we do this to the Bible?”

This was the moment I fell in love with the Bible. This was the moment that I saw a whole world that existed behind the text.

I simply share this story with you to give you encouragement you when  you read difficult passages in the Bible.  Whether it’s an odd command that God gives, an odd line in a Psalm, or a confusing image in Revelation – there is more to the text than meets the eye. There is a world behind the text, and it probably doesn’t involve flying birds, and letters that sacrifice themselves.

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