Thinking Parabolic-ly

by  Patrick Swayne
Missionary to Australia

Those of us who have grown up in the church have heard from our youth up that a parable is ―an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. The word parable literally means, ―to throw beside,but it does indeed apply to  when a spiritual truth is taught by a common, everyday occurrence. In essence, a parable is when a story is thrown alongside a spiritual truth so effectively that when you understand the story you understand the truth. Our Lord ―spake many things… in parables (Matthew 13:3). Have you ever stopped and asked why?

The disciples once wondered that very same thing. On one occasion they asked Jesus, ―Why speakest thou unto them in parables? (13:10). The answer is given, ―Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. Luke’s account records a different question, but a similar answer that I find interesting: ―Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand (Luke 8:10).

It’s clear that Jesus taught in parables because it revealed the truth to those who wanted to know it and yet kept it from those who did not. However, it also seems that a quality Jesus expected to find in His disciples was the ability to discern the spiritual truth from the parables he taught. Luke’s account makes it seem as though Jesus is saying, ―If you want to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, you have to be able to see beyond the earthly story to the spiritual application. That’s what separates you (my disciples) from the world. In fact, in Mark’s account Jesus almost seems to be rebuking His disciples for not understanding when they ask about the parable of the sower (Mark 4:13).

Spiritual truths abound in the world around us and one of the best things that we can do for our spiritual lives is to develop the ability to think parabolicly (and yes, for you spell checkers, I am coining a term here; if there already is an ad-verbial form of the word parable, I am not aware of it). What this means is that rather than simply see the world for what it is, we would do well to look for the hidden messages in the stories we hear via screen or print, as well as in what happens in the tapestry of stories that make up our everyday lives. Not only will this insulate us against error (as Satan is quite effective in teaching through parables as well), it will also help us to understand the Bible and to be able to convey Bible truths to others.

If we can master the ability to see the heavenly meaning in the earthly stories we encounter and if we can apply the truth we find with God’s word as our guide, we can be sure of our part in the kingdom of heaven. What have you learned today?