The "Parable" of the Stop Sign

The following article is an edited collection of entries I made at the Art Bell's Oh My God! religious discussion bulletin board under a topic I started.  Beware of my attempts at satire to make some of my points. 

06:40 pm Jul 27, 1998 PST

Jesus' parables were stories using common non-spiritual subjects and objects to teach "spiritual" things. Can we learn anything from the parable of the stop sign?

 06:47 pm Jul 27, 1998 PST

How can any of us be so arrogant to assume that we could know the original intent of those who invented the stop sign? There are so many different interpretations of this sign, from the narrow-minded "literal" view, to the more enlightened "symbolic" or "spiritual" view. Why should we have to literally stop? Even if the originators of the sign meant it to be taken literally, how can we be sure that they were right? It is obvious that they wanted to control the thinking of other people, and not let us decide what was best for ourselves. We must love and respect the views of those who choose to abide by their own interpretations of such signs, and stand united against anybody who is a literalist that preaches against views different from their own.

 07:01 pm Jul 27, 1998 PST

Out where I live, quite a few of us do what is called a "California stop" at stop signs, which which is a less literal interpretation of the law. It is very practical, in that it causes less wear and tear on brakes and engines, plus, it helps us get to where we need to go much quicker.

Driving can be such a spiritual thing, in that it can take people to places that help them pray to God and meditate about Him/Her/It. In fact, prayer and meditation can occur inside of our cars, and that cannot be that much more dangerous than talking on a cell phone.

Don't you get tired of those who try to restrict other people's driving according to their own interpretations of the law? We own our own cars, so we have the right to do what we want with them. In my case, I have better than 20/20 eyesight, no tickets for about 18 years, and I have quick reflexes. I should be able to decide for myself the way I want to drive if I think it will be safe. Also, don't you think science will one day find evidence that some people cannot literally obey stop sign laws because of their genetic makeup? We must learn to respect all alternative driving styles.

Regarding those who think cars and stop signs not spiritual things, let us not belittle those in the major Eastern religions, who believe that God is part of EVERYTHING, which includes cars and stop signs. "Secular" thought to them (and to myself, actually) is a myth.

07:10 pm Jul 27, 1998 PST

Is it possible that those who need to take the law more literally are simply "less enlightened" drivers who have not "transcended" beyond the self-serving constraints of organized law makers. Is it not obvious that these type of "TV preachers" are only out to rip us off of our hard-earned money, and use their power to control and brainwash us?

Hey, even the Bible appears to teach against taking stop signs literally: 2 Cor. 11:10-- As the truth of Christ is in me, no man shall STOP me... (KJV)

02:13 am Jul 29, 1998 PST

What is ultimately more "real," the stop sign, or what the stop sign symbolizes? Most of us apart from being high or psychotic probably do not dispute the existence of stop signs. They are "real" to us. Most do not question the accuracy of those who make stop signs; they might accidentally add a few insignificant scratches or dents, but this does not change the actual word "Stop" on the sign. What is less "real" to us then?

What appears less real are the laws that the stop sign symbolizes. I suspect that most people have never bothered to ever try to "prove" that stop sign laws actually exist, or if they are even valid. An unbeliever in stop sign Laws might try to run a sign to "prove" to themselves or others that the laws regarding stop signs do not exist. If no police stop him  her, this could be "proof" enough to them that the laws do not exist.

If the police stops the unbeliever and gives him or her a ticket, he or she could still deny the law's existence, but for whatever reason, decide to comply with the ticket, and still claim that there was no "proof" of the laws. In fact, the unbeliever could decide to resist the police all the way to getting put into prison, and still claim that the laws are not valid, or do not exist at all.

In effect, most of us treat both the physical stop signs and the unseen laws and law makers as "real," even though we hold to the existence of the laws and the law makers by FAITH. Yes, we could go through our lives gathering evidence through logic or indirect evidence of their existence, but most of us choose to believe in the existence and authority of the laws and the law makers without ever making any attempt in personally investigating their existence.

So, it appears obvious that the law and the law makers are just as "real" as the actual stop signs. Also, most of us by faith accept the authority of the laws and the law makers by simply recognizing the existence of the stop signs.

Could the laws and law makers in some way be even more "real" than the actual stop signs? How would we answer the last question if we substituted the word "important" in place of "real?"

What is more real, a parable, or what it symbolizes?  How should we treat Jesus' parables in light of this? Also, how should we treat the rest of the Bible?

Does anyone who has been reading my topic postings still think I am only talking about "stop signs?"

01:13 pm Jul 29, 1998 PST

Parables surprisingly deal with very common "earthly" subjects in order to help us picture "heavenly" things. Granted, things down here are limited (finite) images for things such as Heaven and God, but things on earth go a long way in helping us in our understanding of what is beyond here. As I stated in another topic at the bulletin board (about God being jealous),  mankind was created in the image of God according to the Bible.  Even after original sin entered mankind and the universe, there remained quite enough undistorted images of God in us and our world to perceive the basic outlines of much of how He works, and how "spiritual" things work in general.

Parables also appear to have the amazing ability to keep "spiritual" topics anchored into reality and the human experience. Everyone by now knows of the famous John 3:16 verse seen on signs at sports events.  This verse is part of the explanation of a parable Jesus was teaching to help us understand how the human soul could be spiritually regenerated, and the reason why this can take place.  Here is the parable:

John 3:3-8-- Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. "Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."

As you can see, Nicodemus is anchored to the physical picture of the concept of physical birth as a key picture of how we must enter the "Kingdom of God." He did not have 2000 years of theologian's analysis of the parable to fall back upon. He simply faced the parable as a literal topic,  struggling along with being anchored to the "earthly" picture while Jesus proceeded to explain it.  Here is what happened next in the parable:

John 3:9-16-- Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not understand these things." "Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak that which we know, and bear witness of that which we have seen; and you do not receive our witness. "If I told you earthlythings and you do not believe, how shall you believe if I tell you heavenly things? "And no one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven, {even} the Son of Man. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.

Notice that Jesus confronted Nicodemus for not being able to see the "heavenly" symbolism found in His "earthly" examples.  Parables appear to be methods God uses to help those who seek Him in understanding spiritual realities. Also, parables act as a filter to strain out those who are not truly seeking God and His will for them. Here are some verses to explain this filtering process:

Matt 13:10-15- And the disciples came and said to Him, "Why do You speak to them in parables?" And He answered and said to them, "To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. "For whoever has, to him shall {more} be given, and he shall have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. "Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. "And in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, 'You will keep on hearing, but will not understand; and you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive; For the heart of this people has become dull, and with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I should heal them.'

It appears that Jesus was able to use just about any "earthly" topic to use in His parables to teach "heavenly" things. Some other "earthly" topics of His day that He used in parables were the legal system (Luke 18:1), farming (Matt 21:33), business (Matt 20:1), medicine (Luke 5:30), cooking (Matt 13:33), family relations (Luke 15:11), accounting (Matt 18:23), banking and investing (Matt 25:14), building construction (Luke 14:28), military warfare (Luke 14:31), among other things.

10:31 pm Jul 29, 1998 PST

Only in recent times have I been blown away about how amazing parables really are.  As a former engineer/computer programmer, I used to have a number of problems regarding various organizational wording structures found in the Bible. Many years ago, It seemed to me that God should have been more direct, and have written out His doctrines more clearly and concisely, using some kind of standard organized style that we could easily understand.  After being a Christian for 24 years, I now can see that this at most would only provide us theoretical knowledge (gnosis), but we would still not have experiential or full knowledge (epignosis).  It appears more and more clear to me that the Bible is perfectly designed for us to gain both types of knowledge.

Speaking of two kinds of knowledge, is not theoretical knowledge the same as "the word" (small "w"), and full experiential knowledge (epignosis) the same as "the Word" (capital "w")? It appears that this "Word" is not an it, but a person:

John 1:1-14-- In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. He came for a witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but {came} that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man. He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, {even} to those who believe in His name, who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.

As we can see, this "Word" not only is a person, but is the source of ALL things, and is the Child of God Who was equated with God from the very beginning.

What a strange and mysterious thing to call such an amazing Person: "the Word" (from the greek word logos).

(The following entry was not posted by me, but I thought that it was very much worth including in this article:

09:36 am Jul 30, 1998 PST

One day a policeman sees a motorist approach a stop sign. The motorists slows for the stop sign but does not come to a complete stop nearly causing an accident. The policeman stops the motorist and asked him why he did not stop for the stop sign. The motorist replies, "Well, I did slow down, isn't that good enough?" The policeman pulls the motorist from the car and begins to whack him with his baton. The motorist cries, "Stop, Stop!" The policeman replies, "Oh you want me to STOP or slow down."

Now that's a parable

 04:40 pm Jul 30, 1998 PST

As we can see with the last example, parables cut right through our relativism and our rationalizing of our own behavior, as long as we stay anchored to the symbols in parables. Our anchors can be "tested" to see how well they connect to reality by applying specific examples, such as in the last example. Does this mean that true spirituality is always practical, at least in the long run?  It certainly appears to be so.

Since the Bible teaches (in so many words and Words) that God is omniscient and omnipotent, can we not conclude that before God created the heavens and the earth, He already had specific plans for each and every part of His creation to be symbols for teaching mankind about Himself and His ways? In other words, is not everything around us pre-designed parables waiting to be understood?

Some religions have bothered me specifically because they seem to imply that one is more spiritual if they are more intelligent. The Bible certainly teaches against that idea. Parables seem to be the great equalizer, in that all you need to understand parables is experiencing human life, and have a soft heart (and not a particularly soft head) that God could fashion.

 01:27 am Aug 1, 1998 PST

Does the fact that emergency vehicles do not have to obey stop signs during the course of their official duties indicate a sort of relativism regarding law interpretation?

The applicable Webster's Dictionary definition that appears to be for the word relativism is, "referring to modifying an antecedent." I believe that this question is misleading since it implies that the laws behind stop signs are relative. This is simply not true.  Built into the stop sign laws are clear definitions of what is right and what is wrong. It is not a relative thing when it comes to what the laws say regarding the use of emergency vehicles. Contrary to what it sometimes appears as, emergency vehicles are not above the law. They must also follow the laws regarding how such vehicles are to be used in an emergency.

In fact, I learned about how "emergencies" fit into our Laws when I was last on jury duty. The defendant on my case was trying to get off a drunk driving charge because there was supposedly an emergency that he was involved in. Part of our job as jurors was to determine whether or not there was a real emergency. The laws regarding the situation were not something for us to mold and treat as relative.  They were set and very literal. It was the unchanging standard of the law that we used to measure the defendant's and other witnesses' testimony. The range of possibilities for the evidence is great, but the laws were designed to cover the entire range. The laws were not in the process of being adjusted by the judge or the jurors, or by anyone else. Of course there is the possibility of the need to make adjustments to our human laws due to man being finite and imperfect, which goes back to the partial distortion of the image of God in us due to sin. Changes in the laws could not happen there in that court room.

As most of us know (and some detest), most of mankind's laws match rather well with the Laws found in the Old Testament. Therefore, even human laws are images (distorted as they might be) of Divine Laws.

Even more detestable to some is where the Bible says we got our "common sense" from:

Rom 2:14-15-- For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them...

So, God has put into each person in the world His Laws, and even without the Bible, we all instinctively know what Laws we ought to abide by.  Of course "ought to" is quite different from "obey."

06:25 pm Aug 4, 1998 PST

(note: someone else proposed a parable of the "telescope," where the idea of three lenses acted as the the following things Jesus said He was: John 14:6-- Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.")

This new "parable" of the telescope was useful in opening my eyes to the progression of the three things: the way, which leads us to the truth, which then finally leads us to the life. I must admit that I did not see this as clearly as I did before. Thank you.

Not that I am much of an astronomer, but could I would like to make a suggestion for an adjustment to this "parable."  Consider equating "the way" with what angle (azimuth, etc.) you point the telescope in, equating "the truth" with putting the particular star or other object in proper focus, and equating "the life" as the resulting fruits (conclusions) one gains from the process.

To do this process properly, we must properly point the telescope in the right direction. If you have ever messed with a fairly powerful telescope, then you would know how hard this is to do. You cannot just haphazardly point it in any direction to see what you are looking for. To make matters more difficult, you must continue to adjust the telescope to follow the object, since it's position changes due to such things as the rotation of the earth.

Focusing is easier, but you must compare and contrast the adjustments until the clearest and sharpest (most literal) picture is shown. Unless all this is done carefully, then the only thing you can do is imagine what this object ought to look like. According to the Bible, it is dangerous to depend only on our imagination. 2nd Cor. 10:4,5-- (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ;

03:22 pm Aug 8, 1998 PST

I would like to expand the "parable" of the stop sign to also consider the signal light.

As with the stop sign, the signal light is symbolic for various real laws. The red light is most similar to the stop sign. It is symbolic of "thou shalt NOT," or what we are not allowed to do. The green light is symbolic of what "thou shalt do." Contrary to what some might think, the green light does not give us freedom to choose what we will do. We MUST move forward, or get out of the way, hopefully off the road. We do not have the legal choice to stay stopped, except for in emergency or safety situations which the law also recognizes.

The yellow light may seem a bit more complicated to understand from a legal point of view. Many appear to interpret it as saying "speed up." Here is what the California DMV rules say about it:

A yellow signal light warns you that the red signal is about to appear.  When you see the yellow light, you should stop, if you can do so safely.  If you can't stop, look out for vehicles that may enter the intersection when the light changes.

I assume that most of the other states have basically this same law.

There would be ridiculously massive amounts of accidents if we got rid of these yellow "warning" lights.  The sudden change from a green light to a red light would not give enough time for any driver to even consider the need to change his or her ways. It seems that nobody in their right minds would consider yellow lights as being unnecessary, judgmental, paranoid, mean-spirited, negative-minded, thoughtless, or cruel, or "holier-than-thou." They serve us well in giving us much needed warning of significant changes in the near future that will affect us. We all have seen that the yellow light is relatively short, so we must not waste time debating what changes we must make in our actions.  It would be foolish to ignore their warnings, if we care about ourselves and/or others.

In light of this, is my web page a kind of "yellow light?"

 01:13 am Aug 24, 1998 PST

(The following was stated by someone else):

It is indeed a long journey, and has taken far longer than 6000 years.  And speaking of parables .... the whole old testament is written in parables and allegories.

(Here is my reply to such ideas):

For a parable to be worth something more than being mere entertainment, it must be a symbol of something even more real and of higher importance than what it at first appears to be speaking about.  For example, if Adam and Eve were not "literal," and if they did not literally bring death and "the curse" upon the material universe, then what do these symbols stand for that are even more literal?  What could be more literal than death?  What can be more literal than "thorns and thistles" or multiplied pain of childbirth? Also, if Noah's flood did not literally occur, then what more literal thing did such a story stand for?  If hell is not literal, then what more literal thing does it symbolize?   Those who do say that such historical events are only parables always come up short in answering such questions.  To them, the thing being symbolized always ends up being LESS THAN what the symbol itself was.

What right do we as finite humans have in picking and choosing which stories of the Bible are real, and which are only symbolic?  If we chose not to believe in the "first" Adam and all that he did, what right do we have to believe in the "last" Adam and what the Bible claims He did (1 Cor. 15:45).  If we decide that hell is not real, then what right do we have in believing that heaven is real?  Psychologists call inconsistent picking and choosing of beliefs regarding reality "denial."  Christians, let us remove any "denial" we have regarding our Biblical faith.

Should we treat a story as only symbolic if it seems too amazing for us to believe?  The most amazing stories by far in the Bible have to do with Jesus' virgin birth into the world as God the Son, His dying to pay for all the sins of the world, and His resurrection from the dead into an immortal super-body.  Should we treat these as mere fantasies or allegories due to their nearly unbelievable qualities? The parable has always stood for something much more important and real than the parable itself is.  If what Jesus did (or who He was) were just fantasies or allegories, then what specific literal set of things did the story His life, death, and resurrection truly stand for?  One cannot get more literal, but more into fiction when taking such directions in thinking.

Regarding the "journey" lasting longer than 6000 years, the Bible (assuming that it is accurate) gives us a good idea how long earth history has lasted (about 6000 years), based upon genealogies along with clear verse confirmation that the creation week was a literal period of six 24-hour days, with no time gaps of millions or billions of years between Gen 1:1 and 1:2--

Exodus 20:11-- "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy."

The scientific evidence for a 6000 year universe is quite substantial, but such evidence would easily take up an entire web page, let alone a single article, so I will not cover such material here.  In this article, I am concentrating on staying within the constraints of what a parable is as found in the Bible, without forcing into it our own so-called "modern" views and biases of what we would prefer this Book to imply about the past.

(In the next few paragraphs, I replied to someone who gave a "parable" that pictured a perfect world that had no sin and no problems, and everyone was happy.  Even though the person who posted a description of this "ideal" world believed such a place existed once, they could not answer any of my questions regarding how it changed from such a wonderful place to what it is  now):

If this ideal world that you drew for us was real once, how did "sin" enter it (if you don't like the word "sin," then whatever you would call the mental sicknesses and imperfections in each of us)?  Do you not believe that "stop signs" exist today?  Do you not think that we need "stop signs" regarding various human behavior ("sin"), such as murder, rape, theft, etc.?

In your ideal world, what came first, "sin" (the sickness in each of us), or the "stop sign?"

I personally am not willing to exchange my belief regarding the origin of the earth and mankind for any story that cannot at least fully answer the important questions I have asked. Past stories of history must explain for today's realities to be true accounts of history.

Parables in the Bible must always be accurate pictures of common "earthly" realities to qualify to be pictures of "heavenly" realities.

If ANY parable of the Bible is more "real" than what it symbolizes, then I have completely wasted the past 24 years of my life trying to follow Jesus Christ.

 07:14 pm Aug 26, 1998 PST

Prov 14:12-- There is a way  which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.

John 12:35-36-- Jesus therefore said to them, "For a little while longer the light is among you. Walk while you have the light, that darkness may not overtake you; he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.  "While you have the light, believe in the light, in order that you may become sons of light."

John 3:19-20-- "And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.  "For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.

I Jn 1:5-- And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.

John 8:12-- Again therefore Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of life."

2 Cor 4:6-- For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.

Acts 26:18-- 'to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'

If we were limited to our own finite studies and "spiritual" experiences of God, at best, our knowledge of "the other side" is merely guesswork, and quite open to disinformation provided by those who enjoy the dark more than the light.  So many are quick to write off accepting the divine authorship and the accuracy of the Bible, yet at the same time, are willing to accept nearly any other source of "spiritual" information, simply because it seems "good, "positive," feels good, or is of a supernatural source. In light of this, it is quite ironic that us "literalists" are always the ones labeled naive.

As one who has been in "spirit contact" with both God and the devil at different parts of his life, I testify that the Bible truly does paint the best picture of what reality is all about, regardless of which "imperfect" people God used as instruments to pen His Word or protect it in the past.

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