In 1985 Cher starred in a movie called Mask. She played the biker mother of Rocky, a teenager with a severe facial deformity. Possessed of a gentle nature, Rocky volunteers to help out at a camp for blind kids. If they can’t see his face they’ll judge him on who he is, not what he looks like.
During the camp he develops a romance with one of the blind teenage girls. Blind since birth, she doesn’t know what Rocky means when he talks about colours or clouds. Rocky is determined to communicate these things to her, and has a brilliant idea on how to do it. He leads his girlfriend into the kitchen and over to the refrigerator. He takes out a rock he has placed in there earlier and places it in her hands. “That’s blue” says Rocky. He then takes her to the oven and pulls out a rock which has been heated. Placing it in her hands she comments on how hot it is. “That’s red” says Rocky. He then pulls out a bunch of cotton wool balls and places them in her hands. “That’s what clouds are like”. The two of them grow excited as this young blind girl feels that for the first time she understands what colour and clouds are.
Of course she never sees colours and clouds as they really are. Rather, by comparing them to something she already knows she is able to gain a sense of what they’re like.
When it comes to describing realities beyond our direct observation the bible adopts a strategy similar to Rocky’s. How could we possibly understand exactly what heaven and eternity in it will be like if we’ve never experienced that kind of life yet. So the bible draws pictures in terms of what we already know as familiar: a brilliant city, a beautiful garden. In painting such pictures we may not get a literal picture but like Rocky’s blind girlfriend, we get a sense, and the sense of it is all we need.