On Comparisons

Submitted by Caleb on Sat, 03/17/2018 - 04:14

Like milk when once gone sour,
Love lost is lost forever.

I just made that proverb up. 

I don't even believe it, but what if that were a common saying? What I'm thinking about right now is the power of comparisons. We all have lots of comparisons at hand that we use to figure out what's going on in our lives, and it seems to me that whatever is in that arsenal of comparisons that come to your mind, carries a lot of power in your life.

Of course we don't just reference similes from nature (like milk going sour) to understand our lives; we all have a library of songs, movies, books, t.v. shows and all manner of stories that we reference. Every culture and every individual has a unique set. These tell us how things work and tell us how to behave.

I tend to think there’s no such a thing as a story without a moral. Authors lead their readers to want the narrative to go a certain way for the characters, and certain outcomes are shown as more appealing than others. Really clever authors can make us want the plot to go one way, and then later show us how foolish we were to want that, convincing us that another path (whether happily taken or tragically missed forever) is much better.

We discover the moral as we relate the stories that we read to our own lives — we find points of similarity and compare the characters and situations with the people and situations in our lives, and what was made appealing in the story then seems like a good idea for our lives.

Marrying Mr. Darcy looks like a good idea in Pride & Prejudice, so if a young lady wants to apply in her own life what was presented as positive in Pride and Prejudice, she must figure out who in her life is Mr. Darcy (assuming she’s Elizabeth.) 

We all do some of this kind of thing, but it’s pretty hard.

There are so many stories and and there are so many aspects to the different characters and situations. Say you’re a girl trying to figure out if you should marry the local boy (your childhood friend) or if you should go out into the world and find a somewhat older man of experience — the Anne of Green Gables series and Little Women give opposite answers to that question!

^Strong feelings bode well for future romance. (If you click on the picture, don't close it but click back)

Of course you can look into the particular traits of the characters  (for example an Austen reader who wants to make a comparison to understand a clergyman in her life, must determine whether he’s a silly Mr. Collins, charming Mr. Tilney,  mean Mr. Elton, or steady Edmund Bertram,) but even underlying all that is the question: what if you get it right but the author was wrong about life!

In a way more basic than the moral of the story is just how it presents


A book can be a bad reference point for your life just because life doesn't work the way it's shown in the story.

I should mention that we have much to be thankful for to good authors who have made real folly appear foolish and  true nobility look noble. But authors and readers must be careful; stories falsely told or wrongly understood can give one a sense of things being fated to fall out a particular way in one's life when they needn't and shouldn't "Well, I guess that's just the way it goes. Just like in that novel, there are no second chances, love lost is lost forever."


I wasn't actually thinking of a book, but a song when I made up my little desponding love proverb — If You Could Read my Mind by Gordon Lightfoot, sung in 1970:

I never thought I could feel this way
And I've got to say that I just don't get it.
I don't know where we went wrong,
But the feeling's gone
And I just can't get it back.

^Gordon Lightfoot, looking slightly sad

Is this the way things have to be? This song was written from the sorrow of a divorce, and interestingly (I bring this up at the risk of infinite regress) has in it the idea of referencing his experience to a novel:

When you reach the part where the heartaches come,
The hero would be me.
But heroes often fail,
And you won't read that book again
Because the ending's just too hard to take.

That hurts! But what if you didn't want this to be your only point of reference when you encounter love gone cold in your own life? What if you don't want to believe that it's just like in that sad novel, or that song that says "the feeling's gone and I just can't get it back."

Well, eleven years before that song came out, Jaques Brel gave us a metaphor arguing for hope when love has grown cold. In his famous 1959 song Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don't Leave Me) he sang:

On a vu souvent
Rejaillir le feu
D'un ancien volcan
Qu'on croyait trop vieux
Il est, paraît-il
Des terres brûlées
Donnant plus de blé
Qu'un meilleur avril

Which paraphrased is: We've often seen come forth again the fire of an ancient volcano, thought too old; the burnt land gives more wheat than the best April. 

^A farmer in Indonesia watches Mt Sinabung erupt. Before 2010 the volcano had lain dormant for 400 years.  Photo credit: AP/BINSAR BAKKARA

“April" represents the springtime of love and the ancient volcano represents old love rekindled. The metaphor lends credence to the point in a powerful way, because volcanic soil does in fact produce the best wheat. If it works that way with wheat, maybe it's a principle that applies to other things in this world, like relationships? This is the strength of nature metaphors. The comparison to a novel or movie can be very powerful in how you understand your life, but if you think about it consciously that question will come up "What if the story is wrong about how things works?" 

This isn't so much the case with nature metaphors; I'd say M. Brel’s volcano/wheat metaphor is definitely one you'll want to keep in your quiver of metaphors. It’s a good counter to my sour milk one — when someone tells you “The feeling's gone and I just can't get it back -- love lost is gone forever” you can fire back with “What about the wheat that grows from volcanic soil!"

Author's age when written


This was a very interesting read. I think all of us would do well to seek our metaphors in the Proverbs of Solomon. :)

A thought on your original proverb...I think any love can be rekindled if the people who were once in love make a commitment to love again. Love stems from choice (in my opinion), and not every lost love is lost forever.

Very well-written, and I didn't lose interest (which is saying a lot for you because I have almost zero focus and get bored easily) at all. Aside from two or three spelling errors, this is very well done. Thanks for sharing!

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

I think that yours is a wise suggestion. But in Proverbs it says "The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools." (Proverbs 26:7) Which I take to mean that just like a lame man who has legs of different lengths cannot walk well, so a fool matches his proverb to the wrong situation and it doesn't work well. So even with assurance that your starting truth is true there's still the business of applying it right! (There's some controversy about how to translate this verse but my interpretation is based off of the KJV reading.)

Of course I agree it's a matter of choice; I just don't want people to make their choice thinking it's just fate working.

I'm glad it kept your interest.

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

It depends on what you mean by fate... because there's fate, and then there's the sovereignty of God. I would hope that we humans would make our choices based on the knowledge of His sovereignty and Lordship.
The word "fate" has its roots in Greek mythology. :)
...and that is as far as I can collect my thoughts at this time. 4 toddlers are demanding my attention.

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

The example I'm imagining is someone who in effect chooses a path without acknowledging that he is actually making a choice -- that there was another possible option. If you jump in the air you have no choice but to fall, but whether 'the feeling's gone' or not is not in that category.

I think that there is a world of choice, but some things are not in that world (like gravity or whether you are a man or a woman). God will judge us on our obedience to his Lordship in the world of choice.

I don't think there will be any reward for not stealing the Hope diamond when you don't have the capabilities to pull off the heist, or any punishment for not flying at the the speed of light to save someone from an on coming train on the other side of the world. However if you say 'I wasn't smart or strong enough to to help my neighbour off the tracks" when you actually were, you are to blame.

But I think that over everything (both gravity kinds of things and our choices) is God's sovereignty. I don't think a man needs to be concerned with that in terms of making a choice -- that is, concerned about whether he's stepping outside of it or not. Whether he chooses to stay with his spouse or divorce her, love his neighbour or commit genocide, the choice he makes will be what God appointed.

I hope that's clearly laid out, even if the issues are ultimately mysterious.

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse

That makes perfect sense, and I agree with what you're saying. Your way of putting it makes so much more sense than anything my muddled brain could ever conjure up. :) Thank you for taking the time to reply to my comments so concisely. I really appreciate it.

I don’t thrive off of chaos: chaos thrives off of me.

Thanks for writing this, Caleb!
A lot of what you bring up here hits home for me. I've had so many choices to make in the past several years, so many unexpected situations. I still face decisions of what to do, where to go, and how to handle my own heart. Comparisons can guide us well, or guide us poorly, and it can be so hard in the moment to know what is right... and yet, at the same time, God's sovereignty over it all is an enormous comfort. If it were not for that, I would probably find myself walking down the road to despair.
Thanks for bringing up the points you outlined here!

"The idea that we should approach science without a philosophy is itself a philosophy... and a bad one, because it is self-refuting." -- Dr. Jason Lisle

I pray God gives you wisdom, and that you look at things in your life from the true perspective. I think God's sovereignty is knowledge too wonderful for us, but comfort is exactly what christians should take from it.

And he was just wondering, for he was a severe critic of his own work, whether that last line couldn't be polished up a bit...
~P.G. Wodehouse