Speaking in Pictures

Fall Colors in Southern Utah

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

English Proverb

That statement is surely one of the most popular cliches in our modern culture. And that’s because it’s true.

We human beings do not begin our lives thinking in words; we start by thinking in pictures. For some, this pictorial processing is gradually diminished as our vocabulary grows and words take on a greater role, but the fact remains: pictures are our first language.

This fact explains the importance of story, illustration, and analogy in any sort of attempt to convey information from one person to another. It’s why the greatest orators of history have not been mere stringers-together-of-words, but have been verbal artists, painting pictures as much as speaking truths. It’s also why more visual media forms are quickly supplanting more verbal forms as the preferred means of information transfer in our culture.

And, it’s why Jesus taught the way he did. Jesus often spoke in pictures. He often taught through stories that connected everyday life to the greater spiritual truths he had come to reveal.

A couple of years ago, there were a lot of videos floating around the interwebs of colorblind people receiving glasses that allowed them to see color for the first time. Many of these people wept tears of joy when they saw the beauty around them.

Here’s just one example:

When we speak in pictures, like Jesus did, our listeners might suddenly grasp what had eluded them before. Our gray words might suddenly be transformed into rainbow-hued bits of wonder as they finally glimpse the truth.

Communication is about so much more than information-transfer. When we converse, communicate, talk, or preach, we should not just be seeking to move bytes of data from our brain to our listener’s brain. Instead, we should be attempting to transfer joy, passion, beauty, and truth in ways that stick.

This goal is the same whether we are conversing with the employee in the checkout lane or preaching to thousands in a stadium. The gospel, the fact that there is a Kingdom utterly unlike the kingdoms of this world and that the King of that Kingdom came here to die on a cross to make us citizens of it and rise from the dead to give us hope again, radically reorients every aspect of our existence, including our communication.

There is no such thing as small-talk when Jesus is King. There are no disposable encounters with our fellow image-bearers and potential fellow-citizens. Each interaction we have with other people is full of eternal potential. We must maximize the impact of our words. And stories help us do that.

Jesus spoke in pictures. Those of us who desire to follow him ought to do the same.