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  • Ben Emery

Yeah Buts and What Abouts

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple."




All language is symbolic. Every character stands for something other than itself. You can combine those characters to create words which take on an entirely new symbolic meaning. The word "tree" is not literally a tree. You can't take those four letters and turn them into a 2x4. But those four letters, through the magic of language can "create" a tree in your mind. You can take it even further and put those words together and make statements and propositions which further enhance the symbolic meaning of the words. Sometimes though, the "literal" sense of the words themselves are not able to convey the point the writer/speaker is trying to make and so they are forced to add a further layer of symbolic meaning or emphasis through the use of a figure of speech. Figures of speech and other rhetorical devices are universal. They can vary in type from language to language and culture to culture but they exists everywhere.


We are often so obsessed with our "literal interpretation" of scripture that we actually lose its meaning all together because we don't acknowledge its use of symbolic figures of speech. I'm all for interpreting scripture literally, but we need to recognize that to truly interpret it "literally" means to take the literal passages literally and the symbolic passages symbolically. Consider the statement from Jesus above in Luke 14:26. Jesus is using a symbolic figure of speech, hyperbole, to make a literal point.


These rhetorical devices: simile, metaphor, hyperbole, sarcasm, oxymoron, parable, euphemism and more are littered throughout the pages of scripture. I sense in Christians a) an unfamiliarity with how to use and interpret these properly and also b) a refusal to acknowledge the truth in them even when they are properly recognized.


In the first case I sense this may be because we don't interact with language enough. In other words, we don't read. That includes our Bibles. And I know this is true because you can't read your Bible and not become familiar with this use of language.


In the second case, and the whole reason I am writing this, I see people preferring a thousand qualifications with every statement over the hard hitting truth of the statement itself. I recently witnessed a wonderful, truthful, convicting post by a fellow pastor about the necessity of Christian ministers to be in conflict with our culture since it is so utterly anti-God. The post was met with a thousand "yeah buts" and "what abouts". Most of the "yeah buts" and "what abouts" made good points, and yet at the same time missed the real point entirely. Probably because they didn't want to get punched in the nose by it. The three sentence Facebook post was wasn't a definitive treatise on the biblical qualifications of elders. It was pointing out a deficiency, for us to prefer "being nice" over being faithful, (which most of us are at least tempted towards) and using intentional over exaggeration (hyperbole) to point it out. Period.


Our tendency, when faced with our own sin is always to "yeah but" and "what about" when it should be to repent and rejoice in our Father who forgives us and created language to have the ability to cut through our excuses and loosen the grip we have on our idols in so many diverse and sundry ways.