“The professor began the lecture by inquiring, ‘How many of you believed in Santa Claus when you were young?’ Every hand was raised, including that of the professor. Then the professor asked: ‘Who believes in Santa Claus today?’ Only one hand remained in the air, that of the professor. The students appeared puzzled until the professor explained that the point of the Santa Claus story was that it is good to be good.
Many today could be called fact fundamentalists: if something didn’t happen, it isn’t true. They have lost the ability to hear stories as true stories whose truth does not depend on their historical factuality. Some stories look like historical accounts, but their meaning is found at the level of metaphor. And so it is with the parables in Mark’s Gospel.” (Dennis Sweetland, “Parable in Mark”, THE BIBLE TODAY, November/December 2011, p 353)
Some of the Church Fathers felt Genesis was theology in the guise of narrative. Truth is found not only in fact but also in parable, aphorisms, metaphors, fables, poetry and sometimes in wit. Our modern tendency as believers to over emphasize literal fact as the only way truth can be expressed causes us to undervalue the parables and Scriptural narratives. Our Lord Jesus Himself read the book of Jonah as prophecy regarding the three day burial and resurrection. To read the story only as a historical event misses the very purpose which Christ makes of the story. The birth of Christ is told as story, but it expresses the theology of the incarnation. To overly focus only on the literal facts in the text would cause us to miss some of the major theological points of the story and its challenge to the Roman empire’s claims and to pagan religious claims.
The story of Santa like the story of George Washington and the cherry tree are fictional, yet they can offer us truth about what it important and good.
Sweetland concluded his article with these words:
“When all is said and done, those who understand how parables function could say: We don’t know if these events happened exactly this way or not, but we know that these stories are true.” (p 358)