The Light of the World:
Poetic Imagery and the Gospel

By Chuck Colson

Breakpoint Commentary, February 5, 1996, No. 60205

During the past six months, millions of people have been, according to one observer, "celebrating language in its most exalted, wrenching, delighted, and concentrated form.

In other words, they were reading a best-selling book on poetry, called The Language of Life.

Bill Moyers, who authored the book and hosted the "Language of Life" television series, calls poetry "news of the heart." That's an interesting phrase, and it's one that helps Christians understand how poetry can be used to spread biblical truth.

According to Moyers, poetry is on the upswing in America, because people are crying out for language that brings truth home to the heart and soul. Poetry can accomplish this because it brings information-that is, news-home to the emotions-that is, to the heart. Poets use metaphors-expressions that connect a fact to a picture-in order to bring the information home.

Poetry is
"news of the heart."

For example, suppose I said, "People who follow God's law have strong inner resources and live productive lives." That's true enough-but it's awfully dry. Now listen to how a biblical poet expresses the same truth. The man who delights in God's law is described as "a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season."

Now that's an image that sticks in the mind and the heart.

Why has poetic imagery suddenly become so popular-so popular that millions of Americans were willing to buy a book and tune in to a television series that celebrated poets and their work?

Poets themselves say it has to do with the condition of modern culture. We live in a technological society that rejects anything that can't be measured and quantified. People are crying out for something more-for language that speaks to the soul.

And that's why Christians can use poetry to make a powerful statement about their faith. "The Language of Life" profiles two Christian poets, Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall. Both use the power of poetic metaphor to express the truth of the Gospel.

Consider the lines of Jane Kenyon, whose bout with cancer led her both to a deeper understanding of the fear of death and of the "great goodness" of God. In a poem she says was given to her by the Holy Ghost, Kenyon writes, "Let it come, as it will, and don't be afraid. God does not leave us comfortless, so let evening come."

Kenyon's words may remind you of another powerful, poetic assurance of God's comfort: "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me."

You and I should reacquaint ourselves with poetry, especially the poetry of believers. We can allow poetry's rich, evocative words to speak to our own souls. And then we can pass these poems on as a comfort and a witness to unsaved friends-friends who may be unwilling to crack open a Bible and encounter the comfort of biblical poetry.

As Bill Moyers has discovered, poetic language is the "news of the heart." That's something Christians need to understand--and use to the glory of God.

Copyright 1996 Prison Fellowship. Found on the Web at Breakpoint with Chuck Colson. Used by permission.