A debate is going on over the initial passages of Genesis, over the level of truth that one ascribes to it. It is often characterized as a choice between a natural, literal interpretation, and mere figurative speech. We are often influenced by the world when making such comparisons, so in order to avoid that, how about if we focus on the Word:
And he said, “Hear my words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream.” Numbers 12:6 (ESV)
In this passage, God is addressing Miriam and Aaron as they challenge Moses’ authority. Although the point of the passage is God’s rebuke of that challenge, it’s interesting to note the implication of His response.
God is pointing something out that is evident throughout Scripture, that when He speaks most directly, He often uses figurative terms. This is clear in the prophetic books, but is also clear in Jesus’ teachings. In other words, God does not consider figurative language to be inferior in some way. In fact, He reserves it for some of His most direct communications.
Now, consider how the Bible describes the difference between spiritual reality and natural reality. The natural world is describe in terms such as “temporary”, “corruptible”, “image”, and “shadow”. Spiritual reality, on the other hand, is described with terms such as “eternal”, “substance”, “unchanging”, etc. The Word describes the truth that spiritual reality is more significant than natural reality, even though our senses disagree.
So if God communicates spiritual truths through figurative means, is that more or less profound than natural historical narrative?
I think it’s important to remember how easily we can allow our natural biases to influence how we think about the Word. We can even end up criticizing the very techniques chosen by God Himself if we’re not careful.