Tag Archives: Allegory

The Boulevard and the Gate

So you are no longer a slave, but God’s child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Galatians 4:7 (NIV)

In the early stages of my spiritual journey I wandered down the path of legalism. I was never particularly comfortable with it’s straight-and-narrow streets and the authoritarian, self-appointed traffic cops on every block wearing their spit-polished Junior Holy Spirit badges. Nevertheless, I came to an understanding of why so many people find their way to that huge boulevard.

There’s a certain ease to the path of legalism. It requires little in the way of thought, meditation, grace, wisdom, or knowledge. Everything is prescribed for you in black-and-white terms and simple rules of obedience. There’s strict accountability to keep you on the straight-and-narrow. Your fellow wayfarers will, of course, watch you like a hawk, but then there are the self-appointed traffic cops to watch your every move, remind you of the rules, and threaten you with any number of heinous punishments (i.e. alienation, condemnation, damnation) should you stray from their prescribed path.

Along that stretch of the journey I met a number of individuals who had been walking the path of legalism for many years. They had given themselves over. So comfortable had they become with their enslavement to the rules that the simplest notion of grace or freedom became a fright. They reminded me of the Hebrews in the wilderness begging to return to slavery in Egypt. “At least we knew the rules. Life was so much easier to understand. It wasn’t so hard or so complicated.”

In Paul’s letter to the believers in Galatia, he finds them in a similar spot. Having received the Message of Jesus by faith when Paul was with them, they are now being told by some self-appointed traffic cops from the path of Legalism to get themselves back on the straight-and-narrow. These Officers of Legalism are demanding obedience to their list of religious rules.

In his letter Paul calls on a powerful word picture. He argues that Jesus came to make us children of God and co-heirs with Christ. We are, therefore, no longer slaves to be herded down the path of legalism constantly threatened with alienation, condemnation and damnation should we fail to march lock-step in accordance with the self-appointed traffic cops.

Paul argues that we are free to walk down a very different path as heirs of grace freely given, of forgiveness poured out in excess, of extravagant acceptance, and of unalterable love. Why, Paul asks, would you ever want to go back to Legalism Boulevard?

Along my journey I’ve observed that some people find the path of legalism to be easier than the path of love. Having walked that Legalism Boulevard for a block or two, a piece of me gets why people spend their entire lives on its pristine concrete between its high curbs. I found obedience to a set of well defined rules less painful than dying to myself. I found that condemning rule breakers was easier (and even felt self-righteously satisfying) than forgiving them as I have been forgiven. And, I found that following the straight-and-narrow of Legalism Boulevard was guaranteed not to twist, turn, or lead me to uncomfortable neighborhoods where people look different than me, act different than me, think differently than me, or speak differently than me. There’s a comfort in that.

In the quiet this morning I’m reminded that Jesus said that the path of Life lies behind a narrow gate that’s not particularly well-marked. It’s narrow and not necessarily easy to make out because, like Frost’s poem, it’s less traveled than Legalism Boulevard. But those who ask directions will find their way there. Those who seek it out will find their way there. Those who knock on the narrow gate will find it open to them.

I’ve found it a messy and slippery path with some steep inclines and deep valleys. There have been lonely stretches where faith was required. There were some stretches I shared with companions that required humility, trust, forgiveness, teamwork, and grace to get through some of the terrain. I’ve also found myself in some foreign places that forced me to get past my fears. It hasn’t always been easy, but the further I travel on the path the more Life I’ve experienced.

I’ve never regretted leaving Legalism Boulevard. In fact, I’d encourage anyone who’s walking lock-step down that street to make their way down the alley. Ask about a narrow gate. Seek it out. You’ll be glad you did.

Just don’t let the Traffic Cops see you 😉

Interpreting the Language of God

Artwork by Michael Buesking at prophetasartist.com
Artwork by Michael Buesking at http://www.prophetasartist.com

Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber’s razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair. When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword. But take a few hairs and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to all Israel.
Ezekiel 5:1-4 (NIV)

Ezekiel’s performance art piece continues in today’s chapter. After a year and three months to act out the siege of Jerusalem, God tells Ezekiel to cut off his hair and weigh it on the scales. Burn a third, strike a third, scatter a third, but tuck a few into your cloak.

The word picture God has Ezekiel act out is actually very direct.

Think of how Jesus described our importance to God. He said, “even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” Ezekiel cutting off his hair is a picture of the cutting off of all those numbered, important ones – God’s people.

We all know that scales represent justice. Almost every courthouse in the country has a statue of the woman, Justice, blindfolded and holding out the scales. Think of what we just read in the stories of Daniel when Daniel interprets the dream of Belshazzar:

You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.

God is going to allow His people to be cut off from Jerusalem in judgement.

  • Burn a third: Jerusalem will burn in the siege, a third of the people will die in the fire
  • Strike a third with with the sword: One third will be killed in the battle/siege
  • Scatter a third: One third will be scattered to the four winds, a diaspora
  • Tuck a few: God will tuck away a small remnant into His keeping and protection (exactly what happened with Ezekiel, Daniel and his three Amigos, and the remnant in Persia)

To understand the prophets, we must learn to think in word pictures and allegory. We hear God’s command to Ezekiel and picture his acting all of this out on the street, and we think that we would probably have dismissed him as a crazy fool. Yet even Shakespeare knew that it is usually the fool who knows and speak the truth, and he used that as a device over and over again. Through Ezekiel and his contemporaries, God attempted to communicate what he was about to do through the acting out of metaphors that even an uneducated person could understand.

Today, I’m struck once more by the language of metaphor that God wove into the fabric of creation. It is the basic means by which God expresses Himself in profound ways that touch and move both mind, soul, and spirit. To become effective communicators, we must learn to both hear and to speak in that same language.