Coming Out of the Shadow of the Law and the Mystery of Parables into the Light of the Gospel

What does it mean that the Law is only a shadow of things to come?

I just posted an article imagining a modern parable: The Kingdom of God Is Like an Autostereogram. Today, I am going to write about actual parables that Jesus told. Matthew 13 contains a bunch of them, and they individually and collectively tell a story about the kingdom of God.

Interestingly, Jesus ties the teaching of the law into becoming a disciple of the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 13:52) We don’t normally associate the precision of a code of laws with the imprecision of parables. It’s almost like a left brain/right brain kind of association.

We tend to categorize and distill things down into neat packages, like a code of laws, but parables don’t seem to fit into our neat packages. Laws and parables seem, at first blush, to be polar opposites, but they aren’t. In fact, the Mosaic Law, which informs the Judeo-Christian tradition, isn’t (perhaps) what we think it is.

We think of the Law of Moses as a code of laws, a list of prescriptions, of do’s and don’ts that must be followed precisely. The Pharisees in Jesus’s day also viewed the Law that way, but Jesus took them to task for it:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You tithe mint and dill and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone (Matt. 23:23)


Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone. (Luke 11:42)

The Mosaic Law wasn’t (isn’t) simply about following a prescription or recipe to achieve eternal life. The Law was meant to point to something, to point beyond it to God and His purposes.

Jesus said the Law (and the Prophets) “testify” about him! (John 5:39) On the road to Emmaus after he rose from dead, Jesus explained to some of his followers how Moses (the Law) and Prophets were written about him. (Luke 24:27) (Wouldn’t you like to be a fly on that wall?!)

Wait a minute! Does that mean we don’t need to follow the Law? What about the Ten Commandments? Why did God get so angry at the Israelites for not following the Law?

Jesus told the Pharisees they should do both: follow the Law and not neglect the “weightier matters” of the Law (justice and mercy and the love of God). What does that even mean? Why would he say that?

I will give you “my” answer – the way I understand it – informed by the totality of Scripture. In the process, we will see that the Law and the parables Jesus used are really more similar than dissimilar.

Continue reading “Coming Out of the Shadow of the Law and the Mystery of Parables into the Light of the Gospel”

The Kingdom of God is like an Autostereogram

Autostereograms and the inability to see the image within the image remind me of the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God

If Jesus was walking the earth today, as he did in the 1st Century, he might have said, “the kingdom of God is like an autostereogram.” Or maybe not. Who knows what an autostereogram is? He probably would have used more common words and, perhaps, pointed to an image demonstrating what he was saying.

The image above is an autostereogram. It appears like a repeating pattern of two-dimensional, abstract, interconnected design, but it “hides” a three-dimensional image. It isn’t really hidden, but we must “look beyond” the two dimensional image to see it. Can you see the three-dimensional image? (Look to the end for a clue.)

Our eyes don’t naturally pick up on the three-dimensional object “hidden” (in plain sight) in the abstract image. We have to “strain” to see it. In truth, I wouldn’t say that strain is the right word; it’s rather like we need to relax to see it.

I usually have to stare and stare at an autostereogram to see the three-dimensional object, and sometimes I give up impatiently. When I finally do se it, the image emerges, or even pops, out at me. Some people who have certain eye conditions can’t see the three-dimensional images because of a lack of eye function.

One web page on autostereograms provides the following instruction:

  1. Concentrate at a point in the middle of the 2D picture. Try not to get distracted by looking around the picture.
  2. Let your eyes relax and look through the picture rather than at it. You want to look at a point behind the picture. You will notice that the picture will go slightly out of focus. This is normal, and in fact, this is what you want to happen. For beginners, a useful way to start would be to look at pictures that have been framed. You can then learn to look beyond the picture by using your reflection as a guide.
  3. Once you notice the 3D image, it gets easier. Try to resist the temptation to refocus onto the 2D picture– you will lose the 3D picture if you do so.

People who have never been able to perceive 3D shapes hidden within an autostereogram find it hard to understand remarks such as, “the 3D image will just pop out of the background, after you stare at the picture long enough”, or “the 3D objects will just emerge from the background”. Unless or until you see it, you can’t imagine what it is like.

A skeptic who can’t see the 3D image might be tempted to write it off as an illusion or an active imagination. The reality of autostereograms with 3D images designed into a flat, two-dimensional image, however, is fact. You can even generate your own autostereograms on the Internet.

Autostereograms and the inability to see the image within the image remind me of the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God. People who have gone from atheist or agnostic to believer often describe the switch in similar terms. Sy Garte described a similar experience in his book “The work of His Hands: A Scientist’s Journey from Atheism to Faith”. He describes the period of time when he had moved from atheism to agnosticism as follows:

I found myself standing on the shores of a sea of mystery, certain that the waters hid treasures of beauty and goodness, but with no way to see them for myself.

(An excerpt from Sy Garte: Why I Believe in the Resurrection, commenting on his book in Peaceful Science, November 19, 2019) He recalled reading the Gospels when he still subscribed to materialism and atheism. He read them, he says,

only as an exercise to reinforce my atheistic scorn at the stupidity of Christianity. Back then I was focused on the magic, the contradictions, the naiveté of the ignorant who believed in scientifically impossible events like the resurrection.

Years later, no longer convinced that all truth was bounded by the parameters established by materialism and atheism, Sy Garte read the Gospels with an open mind. He “relaxed” his view, and this time, he saw the image within the image:

When I read the Gospels the second time, my mind was open, freed of the ideological certainty of atheism. I still saw the apparent contradictions, but now they appeared as evidence for truth, the kind of differences one would expect in true eyewitness accounts [citation omitted]. I still saw what looked like magic, but now it confirmed for me my new-found conviction that science is not the only pathway to truth. And now I saw the figure of Jesus Christ, and reading His words, I realized that God must have seen me standing on the shore, staring helplessly at the waves. Jesus Christ rose from those waters and held out His hand to me.

Sy Garte uses metaphoric language here. He didn’t actually see Jesus emerge or pop out of the pages, like the hidden image in an autostereogram. The metaphor is apt, though. The experience is the same.

At one point in his life, Sy Garte couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to believe in Jesus. Later, when he had relaxed his embrace of atheism and materialism, Jesus virtually leapt off the pages of the Gospels.

Sy Garte’s experience is far from unique. The lightbulb moment, the dramatic paradigm shift, is common to stories of conversion. The description Jesus gave it, being born again, is beautifully descriptive of the experience many people have had who went from no faith to faith, often very quickly, even suddenly.

I recall one friend who described that she suddenly realized she saw the world differently. As she gazed out over the landscape, it was alive in ways she never noticed before. In most recent article I wrote, I described the conversion of an Afghan Muslim. He said that he saw people differently after his conversion. He loved them.

These experiences are similar to suddenly being able to see the image in the image of an autostereogram, though the experience of “seeing” and understanding God, Jesus and the kingdom of God is much more dramatic, meaningful, and (of course) life changing. The autostereogram metaphor also makes some sense of the way Jesus described the kingdom of God.

Continue reading “The Kingdom of God is like an Autostereogram”

An Exercise in Viewing Justice from God’s Perspective


In Justice from a Human Perspective, I explored the phenomenon that the vast majority of people have an inner sense of justice that is pricked every time they experience injustice themselves or by people they know and love. The very protest, “That’s not fair!” implies that the protester believes others should recognize it.

We have an innate sense of justice, and we innately feel that others should recognize the justice or injustice we see and feel. We do have have much general agreement, but the disagreements are many at the same time. Those disagreements might be attributable to our perspectives, which are limited and, therefore, subjective.

Thus, we can’t anchor an objective standard of justice in people. It must be anchored in something more immutable, like God (see Justice from God’s Perspective), but how do we know justice from God’s perspective?

I submit that we don’t… we can’t, unless He reveals it to us.

In the Bible we what purports to be a record of God’s communication and involvement in the history of men. While, I admit that we can learn something about justice in other religious books and literature, for many reasons I think the fullest and most accurate record of God’s revelation, generally, and of justice, specifically, is found in Scripture.

You might disagree with me, but stick with me as I consider the following story about Jesus that provides us some perspective on the issue.

Continue reading “An Exercise in Viewing Justice from God’s Perspective”

Rascals for God

Relationships are more important than the things we have

Young Girl with Pigtails Grinning - smWe visited a church today. The pastor invited some of local youth theater kids to lead worship. It was a small, but sweet congregation. The kids did a great job, just being themselves, and singing their hearts out, which is what they do. God has gifted them with musical talent, good voices and really good friends, and they aren’t afraid to share their talents.

Everyone in the church today was blessed.

The sermon was on a parable not often referenced found at Luke 16:1-9:

Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg—I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons[a] of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels[b] of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

What a weird parable! The manager is called “dishonest”; but he is commended for his “dishonesty”?

The clue to unlock the meaning is in the opening line: the rich man was critical of the manager for wasting “his” possessions. The phrase “his possessions” on first blush means the rich man’s possessions, but use of the pronoun, instead of “rich man” or “manager”, leaves open the possibility that they could be the manager’s possessions. Jesus doesn’t clarify.

The parable only makes sense when we understand that God is the rich man, and we are the manager. The possessions are God’s, but we are entrusted with them. We have nothing that doesn’t originate from God. The gifts (talents) we are born with are from God. Even the things we work hard to “earn” ultimately come from God. God created the universe out of nothing, and everything that exists, including the gift of life, was created and given to us  by God.

God gives everything to us; and, ultimately, we “can’t take them with us”, as the saying goes. We are only the managers of the stuff we have.

The manager in the parable is commended for using the “worldly wealth” to gain friends. The manager knew that he was only a steward of the things the rich man left him, and those things would eventually be taken from him, so he used those things wisely to build relationships for the future. Jesus commended the manager and said he will be “welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

A clear implication of this parable is is that relationships are more important than the things we have. The things we have are temporal. They are subject to rust and rot, but relationships are lasting.

The “moral of the story” comes several verses later:

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”  (Luke 16:13)

The most important relationship we have is with God, and a relationship with God is more important than money. We can’t take money with us when we die. Money and possessions will only benefit us while we live. They are ours to manage during our lives. If we use the things we accumulate only for our own benefit, the benefits are only enjoyed (if at all) during our lives.

This isn’t God’s purpose for us. God isn’t happy when we choose the temporal over the eternal.

He also gives us good things to share with others. Sharing our talents and wealth with others is what God wants us to do.

Jesus said it a different way when he told people to store up treasures in heaven where moths and vermin cannot destroy them and thieves cannot steal them. (Mark 6:19-20) If we use our riches for ourselves only, we have our reward, but it is a temporary reward. It’s of no use to us when we die. It is “here today, gone tomorrow”; or maybe more accurately, we are here today, gone tomorrow.

Using our money to bless other people, and thereby build relationships, is the eternal work of God. I don’t believe this principle applies just to money: substitute any other “possessions” (gifts) innate or “earned”, like musical talent, property, whatever it is. If we use what we have on ourselves, we have ultimately wasted and squandered those treasures away. If we use what we have to bless others, we have God’s blessing and we will be welcomed into eternal dwellings!

As pastor Mark Flory Steury said in his sermon, the manager was a “rascal”. He used what the rich man left him to endear himself to the people who owed debts to the rich man. We all owe debts to the rich man (God). The manager collected payments that might not have been paid if the manager had not offered the “discount”. When we use our gifts for other people, we only build relationships with other people, and we “collect” from them thankfulness to God for the generosity that is shown.

Jesus told us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. He said whatever we do for the least among us, we do for God. When people are filled with gratitude for the things we do and the generosity shown to them, are they not also being thankful to God ? Jesus said they would know us for the love that we show to one another, and that love points to God. When we use what we have for the benefit of others, we store up our treasures in heaven – we are rascals for God.