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No, Literally


I believe that the same Jesus who walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee 2,000 years ago is going to come back to this world someday and establish a worldwide kingdom that will last for 1,000 years.

No, literally. Not figuratively. Not metaphorically. Not mystically. Not spiritually and without concrete material evidence. I mean literally. As literally as I drove my Ford F150 out of my driveway this morning, I believe that just as literally Jesus will return to this earththis time riding on a white horse—along with all of the deceased saints.

I literally believe the Bible. I believe the Bible literally. I believe the Bible is literally true.

It's not a bunch of myths and legends that somehow communicate dark and mysterious truths about human history, but it is an actual record of real events that happened in the past.

I believe the literal 6 day creation-of-all-things story in Genesis 1 & 2. I believe in a literal devil, a literal worldwide flood during the days of Noah, the literal destruction of Sodom by fire falling from the sky, the literal miraculous parting of the Red Sea, the literal virgin birth of Christ, and His literal resurrection 3 days after His death.

What else is there to believe?

Well, as it turns out, almost anything else. As long as it isn't that; as long as it isn't a literal view of the Holy Bible. My dogma is ridiculed and mocked by the educated, the initiated, and the irritated. My view is relegated to ignorant Fundamentalists, backwoods hillbillies, and uneducated Christian zealots. But what else are we to do? Jesus believed the Old Testament explicitly. And the New Testament is laid right alongside the Old as an equal.

Jesus—perhaps above all others—utilized figures of speech as His primary method of teaching. He told parables. These stories were allegories. While I am of the persuasion that the parables were all actually true stories, it wouldn't actually matter whether they were or not, because the purpose of each parable was to communicate a moral. There was a principle or a message in each parable that transcended the simple story itself.

Yet, if you pay careful attention to the words of Christ, it is evident that He accepted the stories of the Old Testament as literal and authoritative. Whether it was Jonah and the whale or Noah's flood, He spoke of those events as historical facts, not just legends with some mystical higher moral application.

Again, Jesus was not averse to speaking of physical realities while actually referring to spiritual ones. For example, He told His audience that they would have to eat His body and drink His blood. They did not understand. They thought He was speaking literally. The Catholic Church still teaches that He was speaking literally. Yet He explicitly clarified that He was not. In that case He was speaking figuratively. He said, "The words that I speak to you, they are spirit and they are life. The flesh can profit you nothing at all."

Yet despite all of that, He spoke of His literal death and His literal resurrection. Then He literally went through with it. He very literally laid His life down for His enemies. Of course there were invisible spiritual things that were accomplished by His death and resurrection, but both events were also as literal as a presidential inauguration.

So yes. I believe there is a literal afterlife. Paul said that the things which are spiritual are eternal while the things that are physical are temporary. That tells me that my understanding of what it means for something to be literal and real is hobbled and limited. Why? Because everything that I experience with my 5 senses is actually trivial, frivolous, and fleeting. That is, in and of themselves they are not real in any eternal sense. Yet the material life I live is indeed real. And not only that, it is an opportunity to transcend the material world and invest in the eventual eternal spiritual life that we will someday enjoy forever.

Perhaps the most germane question to ask in this context has to do with the reason why many are so resistant to interpreting the Bible literally. If a person picked up the Bible and read it without any bias against it, how would it be taken? Why, literally, of course. At least that's what I believe would happen. Naturally there would be places where the reader would perceive allegories and figures of speech. But that would be from context, not from a predisposition to deny the literal occurrence of the events recorded in the text or of the whole canon itself.

What motive might push an individual to question the literal nature of the Scripture? I can identify several.

  1. It's unpopular to take the Bible literally. Satan has succeeded in asking the question, "Yea, hath God said?" so many times that it has become the mantra of mankind. The most prominent and powerful talking heads in our culture pooh-pooh the Bible as obsolete, impractical, and irrelevant. But the majority does not an authority make.

  2. A literal interpretation of the Bible is too demanding morally. When we read in holy writ that some specific alternate lifestyle is an abomination to God, it's expedient and convenient for the decadent individual to marginalize and deny either the authority or the meaning of those words—if not both.

  3. A literal hermeneutic also demands the acceptance of the authenticity of miracles. The Bible is replete with examples of far-out claims: manna on the ground, iron floating, men walking on water, water becoming wine, etc. It's much easier to just deny something that you have never seen. And, most never do see.

  4. Taking the Bible literally removes much of the mystery about which heady men pride themselves in speculating. It feels much more liberating to treat the Bible like some kind of elastic fairy tale than to accept it as the exclusive and divinely inspired prescriptive map for living. As long as we are free to theorize about it, we don't have to worry so much about applying it.

I imagine myself standing before God someday and answering for my life here on earth. This is no fantasy either. Jesus warned us that such a day is coming for all of us. Somehow I doubt I will ever get into trouble with my Maker for taking His revelation too literally. Except in those places where faith demands that we look deeper and discover the transcendent meaning of a thing, we would be wise to simply take God as His word. If He meant something else, then doubtless He would have said something else. I, for one, believe that He said what He meant and meant what He said.

No, literally!

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