I’m listening to a bluegrass radio station as I write this, and reflecting on how naturally we humans everywhere in every culture use metaphors and symbols. When the singer right now is saying that his love is the “light of my life,” he is not suggesting she is an alternative to the light bulb. The man in “deep water,” is not in a lake, any more than the lover “fishing for love.” And the woman in a windstorm isn’t talking about the weather.
Young children can’t understand metaphors, but can only think literally. When my mother told me at the age of three that my father was “tied up on the road,” I thought he was fighting with ropes. I didn’t understand either when I would ask about a story “is it true?” My father would say that it was true but not because it really happened. The first time I remember understanding what he meant was when I heard the parable of the Prodigal Son. I knew it was a story that was not relevant because it was an historically accurate account about a son coming back to his family farm two thousand years ago.
I don’t think the earth was literally created in six days. I think it is quite possible to believe in sin without believing literally that the devil appeared in the guise of a snake and beguiled Eve into eating a forbidden piece of fruit. The Garden of Eden is still a phrase we use to mean a place of idyllic happiness. It’s a psychological state, not a place that can be found by our satellite navigator.
So not to believe biblical stories literally has never seemed to me to mean that one may not believe in the truth of the bible. In fact, it seems to me that understanding the scriptures as symbol and metaphor and parable is to understand them on a deeper level.