A dilemma suggests that a person must make a difficult choice between two or more alternatives and that often the choices are undesirable. But what if they are not? What if the choices are equally attractive? Suppose, for example, a person is offered an appealing job at the same time as that person may have won a scholarship to attend a prestigious college. Both have benefits and likely problems. Making a choice presents a dilemma, but, in this case, not an inferior one.
Let’s make the dilemma a spiritual one: Do we have to choose between literal truth and spiritual truth or are both acceptable. Some scholars say the earth was created in a literal seven days, the same kind we experience each day, with 24 hours and 7 days in a week. Others say the Biblical Hebrew word for “day” (yom) can be time of unspecified length. To some, making such a choice is a dilemma. Others may say, “It doesn’t matter, God did it.”
What about choosing a literal interpretation of some Scripture instead of a metaphorical one? Some examples are easy: Jesus was not a lamb, a door, a light, a vine, bread, or shepherd, although he is called or referred to by each of those names. Obviously, the words are metaphorical and cannot be read literally.
Literal examples are, for example, when John said the disciples saw Jesus, heard his words, and touched him, and thus proclaimed him as the “Word of life.” They didn’t imagine that they had looked at Jesus with their eyes, heard him with their ears or touched him with their hands. It was indisputable evidence of something that they had experienced.
Later when John (probably the same John) saw Jesus it was in a vision, because he was “in the Spirit.” Things are not experienced in the same way in a vision as they are in “real” life. Now John sees Jesus, but he is dressed in a long robe with a golden sash around the chest, His hair is white as snow or wool, His eyes are like blazing fire and His voice like rushing waters. Out of His mouth comes a sharp, double-edged sword and His face shines. Literal or metaphorical? The latter, we would say, although overflowing with truth.
Although John’s Gospel describes Jesus in both literal and metaphorical terms, John’s vision is only the latter. From both we gain spiritual truth, which surpasses both the literal and metaphorical. God intended it that way and we should be thankful. It is a delightful dilemma.
Christians do not need to fight over literal interpretations, such as the world being created in 7 of our calendar days. It ends up as pointless because it divides Christians into two (or more) camps, each explaining and clinging to their horn of the dilemma.
The way the Bible talks about Jesus presents some unique problems and challenges in Bible translation. In John 15, for example, Jesus says that he is “vine,” and we are the “branches.” We can envision a vineyard with vines and their branches bearing grapes. But what about translating it into the Kewa language and culture of Papua New Guinea where there were no vineyards? We approach the problem by analogy: there were vines in the jungle and trees and shrubs had branches, so we use those words and concepts, even though the cultural contexts are quite different. It is the same with “bearing fruit” because “fruit” in Kewa is a broad concept and includes blossoms, flowers, seeds, nuts, and even the human “eye” or nature’s pond. It all depends on context. We read in Matthew 7. 16 that “by their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?”
Who or what should we recognize? Matthew was referring to “false prophets” and that we would recognize them because they come in “sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ferocious wolves.” What kind of fruit to ferocious wolves have to offer? We get the point immediately and it is not by any literal translation.
The word of God gives us some delightful moral dilemmas. Here are a few of mine:
· Departing this earth to be with Christ or remaining to serve Him
· Husbands over their wives or equality in marriage
· Sparing the rod and spoiling the child
· Fighting in war or letting others fight for us
· Loving neighbors despite fences and dogs
· Fighting certain government actions or accepting them
· Passively accepting immoral practices or acting against them
Again, cultural context will help us to know what to do and, if as a sincere Christian we are prompted by the Holy Spirit, we can be assured of God’s direction and help. However, it may not always be clear--sometimes indeed all we can hope for is a delightful dilemma.