The picture to the right is a painting of Niagara Falls that we took in Washington D.C. at the National Art Gallery. It is called Niagara, by Frederic Edwin Church (1857). A beautiful painting indeed it is, but it’s not actually Niagara Falls, it’s only a painting. I’ve been to Niagara Falls a handful of times and I can confirm that no painting or photograph compares to actually standing in awe of the wonder of water that is Niagara Falls. Nevertheless, the painting has value because it portrays a likeness of what Niagara Falls is actually like, from the artist’s perspective.
In Mark 4:30 Jesus said,
“To what shall we liken the kingdom of God? Or with what parable shall we picture it?”
Jesus gave us parables so we could picture in our minds what the kingdom of God looks like. Through a parable, we see a portrait of God’s eternal kingdom. The parable itself is not the kingdom, it is merely a word picture to point us to the real thing. The parable has incredible value, but the real thing is the King of the kingdom, God Himself.
Romans 8:29 says,
“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Ephesians 2:10 says,
“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.”
Likewise, God has called each of us to reflect His image and likeness to the world. We are His painting, His work of art, His photograph, His love poem to the world. We are not God, but we can be like Him and we can draw others to the real thing. The real thing is God Himself.
I love beautiful pictures of nature. As I scroll through Facebook, a website or flip through a magazine, sometimes I see beautiful pictures of God’s beauty from all around this earth. My heart is drawn to these places, I want to see them for myself, not just in a picture. The picture is meant to draw me to want to travel and see the real thing.
The Bible paints a picture of what God is really like. But that picture should draw us to want to really know the author, to encounter Him in all His power and glory and love. Through others, we can see His likeness. Through nature, we can see His character and His beauty. But when we come into His presence, we encounter Him, the real thing.