The universe was created in seven days. The flood covered the whole world after forty days and forty nights. The Holy Spirit descended like a dove.
Are these literal tales or metaphorical? Does the Bible tell a chronicle of events?
In some cases the Bible is chronicling. In other, the authors use poetry and metaphor. But metaphor always points to something greater and true. Metaphor points towards something greater than itself. Metaphor is describing things that are merely indescribable in finite, limited human language.
For instance, the teaching on the Trinity; Use of metaphor is how it is explained, yet even metaphor cannot fully illuminate the reality of the Tri-unity. Human language is limited in describing the infinite.
In the case of the creation of the universe: the author is not using a literal seven day period of creating. Seven is a symbol—each day represents a period of time (an era if you will). Yet, if one cannot accept this, God is the all powerful. The flood probably didn’t happen over forty days, but it did happen and over a long period of time. The literal days are not important. What happens and what God is doing in that time period is the important thing.
Yet, some would claim that Jesus’ ministry on Earth was metaphorical. He didn’t really heal, say the things he said, and perform miracles. Yet, the New Testament was written in a style of retelling true events. Jesus’ ministry really did occur. The Holy Spirit descending like a dove is using metaphor, using symbol. The Holy Spirit didn’t come in the form of a dove, but the imagery of a dove evokes peace, unity, the gentle, yet terrible power of God.
The thing to keep in mind is that the Bible is true. God working in the beginning of time and all through history, in individuals’ lives, in a community of believers is what is told in the Bible. It is poetry, true story, chronicles, wisdom, prophecy, edification, a teaching tool that is living because God revealed in its pages is a true and living God. God is who he says He is in the Old Testament and in the New Testament as Jesus Christ reveals.