One purpose of Scripture is to tell us facts that are true. Another, I increasingly believe, is to give us images to fuel our faith. I have found in the last few years that, when I need to pray or act and my faith is flickering, picturing things the right way can make a big difference, and the best source of such pictures is the Scripture.
For example, we know that God is able to provide for us, but when we read “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside still waters” it gives us an image to use as we think about his provision. That image fuels our faith and helps us believe more genuinely and more enduringly.
I think this is especially helpful in prayer. When I’m praying, I ask God to bring Scriptures to mind to use as I pray, and often what comes to mind is a story or image from the Bible.
The image need not be connected to a promise made to us. If I am fighting a fierce temptation in my life, and I read about David defeating Goliath, I may be encouraged to trust God by that picture. I may imagine the temptation as Goliath, and myself as David, and God as helping me defeat it. None of this means that I interpret the David and Goliath story as promising me that I will defeat the temptation. My faith will not be a matter of “claiming” what God has promised. Rather, it is the kind of faith that asks God for victory, keeping the picture of Goliath’s defeat firmly in mind. My faith is in the God who really does things like that, without presuming that he must do them this time.
When I talk about imagery strengthening my faith, what do I mean? I am assuming that faith, while it has an intellectual content, is also something more than belief in an abstract proposition. I may believe something intellectually, and still have trouble emotionally committing to it (which is different than merely feeling like it is true). It is at that level that imagery helps.
Finally, I don’t mean merely that Scripture has a lot of images, and that imagery helps our faith, but that Scripture’s images are divinely inspired to do so. I realize this makes my view of Scripture a little mystical, but I’m willing to live with that as long as the mysticism does not nullify the process of sober, objective interpretation of Scripture’s meaning. It seems to me that Scripture speaks of itself as having not only accuracy but also power in our lives, power to stimulate faith and not only to direct it.