The Message in Some Bottles (A Parable about Scripture)
A parable about scripture for Eugene H. Peterson’s Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity.
There was once an island full of many different people living in harmony, prosperous, with good communication, education. and government. The people were bright and curious. They perfected language communication and understanding.
“One day, down on the beach, a green bottle rode the crest of a wave and landed on the island. An islander was there and picked it up. He noticed a piece of paper inside, took it out and read, ‘Help is coming.’ … The island-world was completely and happily self-sufficient. He had never supposed that he needed help. All the same, the three-word message touched some level of awareness in him he had no name for. He was intrigued.” Soon other islanders were finding bottles with notes. One note read, “Help will arrive soon. Don’t give up.” Soon people were looking for bottles. “Help left yesterday,” another note read. Another encouraged, “Take heart, help will certainly come.” This was so absurd because these islanders did not need help and most of the people could not understand what all the excitement was about. They could not comprehend why anyone would stand around on a chilly beach hoping for a cryptic message that wasn’t about anything. Those who had the messages and found more would gather together in little communities to compare and discuss the notes. Curiosity and excitement gripped them. They marveled how words were being used in a new way—not to show what was there, but to declare what was not there. “They weren’t learning anything from the messages. They were being addressed by an unknown someone who was telling them something they didn’t know they needed. The world was larger, far larger apparently, than anything for which their language had ever provided evidence.”
“It hardly matters that the message is fragmentary.
“It hardly matters that we can’t figure out all the referents.
“It hardly matters that we can’t organize it into something systematically complete.
“What matters is that it links us with a larger world, perhaps a mainland.”
Scripture is a mysterious revelation of a larger world filled with other powers and forces. A Someone else and a somewhere else have invaded our consciousness and lives. Scripture is intriguingly mysterious and unrelentingly apocalyptic. To reduce it to little nostrums of inspiration or to a mundane direction for living life does tragic violence to the largeness of scripture’s purpose and its many-splendored and awe-full beauty.