In the past year, I’ve heard a few pastors and teachers use the phrase “every analogy breaks down”. As a writer and storyteller, I love analogies. It excites me to create a story that holds meaning. Analogies have helped me understand truths about science and mathematics and even theology. But those pastors and teachers were right to say that an analogy only represents the truth so far. In the end, it can only represent a facet.
Many of my essays use analogy to explain the point I hope to make. Some of my friends (Abe, Joe, you know) are really good at taking other points of the analogy and pointing out where any further discussion of the connection between example and truth could result in confusion or incorrect teaching. Thankfully, they can also find other ways in which the analogy truthfully applies. But my point is it would be silly to say that analogies stand on their own as equal to truth.
God is ultimate. He is self-sufficient and depends on nothing outside of Himself. There is nothing in Creation that He did not create. There is nothing outside of His control. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’S, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” Even though He has delegated authority within creation to people (for example Genesis 2:15, Luke 9:1, and the frustrating Romans 13:1), He has in no way given over any control of His creation. In a song ridiculing idols, created things that would try to compete with God for our affections, Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in the heavens, He does whatever He pleases.” He has all control to do what He wants. And in the first verse, the psalmist recognizes God’s ultimacy. “Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth. (Emphasis mine)”
God, in His creativity, thought of everything. This statement shouldn’t be groundbreaking theology. But think about it, if God is the source of all creation, then He is also the source of everything present in creation. I don’t just mean physical matter put together like the best kind of Lego-land. I mean things like creativity itself, or knowledge, or love. His creativity is perfect creativity, His knowledge perfect, His love perfect. Even though we are made in God’s image, our creativity, knowledge, and love are not equal to His. They’re analogous. They’re only pictures.
And so, I’ll use a picture as an analogy. Imagine a breathtaking landscape. Now imagine a vivid photograph of that landscape. Not just a 4x6 point-and-click digital camera kind of photo printed at Walgreen’s. I mean something so well captured and developed that people could easily believe they were looking through a window instead of a framed photo on the wall. Although it is a masterpiece of an analogy, the landscape is real and the photo analogous.
Now if a person were to try understanding the fullness of the landscape, would it be best to go to that location or to look at the greatest photo ever taken of it? Can the photo translate itself back into the landscape? No, because it’s derivative. It truly describes the landscape, but cannot fully define it. If the person looking for understanding were to start with the picture and put the basis of his knowledge on that, it would be only partial knowledge. If he were to try explaining his partial understanding to others, I imagine that would be like him making Xerox copies of the picture to hand out as evidence. But then it’s black and white, dulled by the copy paper. Should people continue trying to make copies to understand the reality of the landscape, taking their Xerox copies and making still more copies, the image would break down. It would deteriorate in quality until only a bleak ghost remained of that glorious picture.
Instead, the man should explore the landscape and encourage others to do so using the picture as a point of reference.
I’ve been thinking about this concept specifically in terms of God’s knowledge and my knowledge because of the post The Importance of Being Right. Recently, I’ve been reading Cornelius Van Til’s The Defense of the Faith. In the beginning of the book, he talks about God as ultimate and creation as derived. When it comes to the knowledge of men, I began to understand that it is only an analogy of God’s perfect and ultimate knowledge. He says, “We are therefore like God so that our knowledge is true and we are unlike God and therefore our knowledge cannot be comprehensive.” And later, “It is true that there must be comprehensive knowledge somewhere if there is to be any true knowledge anywhere but this comprehensive knowledge need not and cannot be in us; it must be in God.”
Only in this context could I understand one of Van Til’s greatest arguments. Man can know true facts about himself and nature, but he cannot truly understand the meaning of those facts unless they have an absolute standard of truth by which to apply them. Because man’s knowledge is only an analogy, and since all analogies break down, it can’t stand alone. It only has meaning when applied to the original. So when two people, one a Christian and the other a non-believer, recognize beauty in nature, they both have recognized something true. Because the Christian has an absolute standard of truth in the Bible where God reveals himself as the ultimate source of beauty and creativity, he is capable of explaining why the flower is beautiful. At best, the non-believer can only say, “Well, it’s beautiful just because.” Or maybe, “Because I think it’s beautiful,” which places the standard of truth inside of himself without explanation or relatable context.
I believe it is important for Christians to realize God’s sovereignty so that we have proper understanding of anything in creation including ourselves. When we look at any facet of creation or any event that occurs within it, we should go back to this foundational understanding: God is ultimately in control.
I also believe it’s important for Christians to recognize that the Bible, while not exhaustive (John 21:25), is completely true. By what would we otherwise give context to our existence? How could we ever know anything truly unless a perfectly true God gave us a perfectly true revelation of Himself? Until Jesus returns, what other standard could we hold fast to? If I didn’t believe that the Bible was God’s perfect word given to us, why would I base my life on it? If it were not so, I may as well say it’s a nice, moral story and continue to base my understanding on myself.
In many ways, understanding God’s ultimacy brings me great joy. Nothing on this earth surprises or frustrates Him. When I don’t understand something that happens in the world, I can know that He is still in control. I can’t be angry or frustrated with him as if I knew better. I can be content to know that God is in heaven, doing what He pleases. He’s full of delight. He is glorious. He is wise. He is loving. And I am a picture of all these things.
Still, to be honest, there are days where I find myself staring at the bleak Xerox wondering if God is good. I’m really only looking at circumstances in a broken world, though. I forget that He is perfect in every way, that He made me in His image (Genesis 1:27) and continues to make me more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18). That’s like Sistine Chapel restoration or the Replacements records finally getting remastered. God daily shows me more of His awesomeness and beauty and how it translates into every part of creation.
The world looks a lot better from that view.