Have you ever wondered why Jesus spoke so often in parables? It occurred to me recently that it’s a lot like the advice writers hear about how important it is to show rather than tell. Long before computers and copiers, or even printing presses, people told stories to draw their audience in. Jesus was a master at this. In most of his parables, we identify with a character, whether it’s the prodigal son or his elder brother (Luke 15: 11-32), the bridesmaids who run out of oil or the ones who don’t (Matthew 25: 1-13).
In my family, we would often discuss a sermon after leaving the church building. Sometimes your mind goes blank for a few minutes and you think, “What was that about today?” Often the thing that brings it back is a story or a joke the preacher shared to make a point. The stories tend to stick with us longer than the rest, and they bring home the message behind the story.
Another parallel that I’ve discovered between God’s plan and pointers for helping writers has to do with secrets being kept until the proper time. The best writers are so good at knowing how long to withhold a piece of information until just the right moment to maximize its impact.
There are times in our lives when we cannot help questioning why God allows the struggles, the pain, the suffering we see around us and sometimes experience ourselves. Occasionally we hear a story from someone who found Christ only after hitting rock bottom, and we think, “Aha! I see why God did that.”
But so often we simply cannot see the reason behind the things that happen in this world. If we compare our lives to a novel, the comparison falls flat. For one thing, as human beings, we are far more complex and full of contradictions than any of the characters in our favorite works of fiction. For another, we do not see the whole picture; the last chapters are not written in this lifetime. The author who created us is infinitely wiser, infinitely more compassionate but also infinitely more mysterious than our favorite novelist.
In Matthew 13: 10-11, the disciples asked Jesus pointblank, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”
Jesus told them, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them.”
As a reader, I love the books that make me think, not just while I’m reading them but long after I finish them. I’m okay with a few things left for me to interpret as I choose, rather than having every single detail spelled out to remove all doubt. I know this style isn’t for everyone, but I love it when I can debate a character’s good and bad qualities with another reader, even if (or especially if) the other reader sees things I missed and vice versa.
But in my life and those of my loved ones, I long for perfect clarity. I want to understand completely; and when I cannot, my faith sometimes falters.
We read in Matthew 13: 13-14, that Jesus’ use of parables fulfilled Old Testament prophecy: “Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.” I can’t claim to understand God’s plan fully, but I take comfort in what is probably my favorite scripture, 1st Corinthians 13: 12-13: “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”