More Than One Metaphor

For there are two sides to sound wisdom.  

Job 11:6   

On an exam, a physics professor at Washington University asked: “Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer.”  

One student answered: “Take the barometer to the top of the building. Attach a long rope and lower the barometer to the ground. Then bring it up and measure it. The length of rope is the height of the building.”   

The professor’s colleague, Dr. Alexander Calandra, was asked to arbitrate the issue. The student answered correctly according to the format for the exam, yet how could he be given credit for an answer that did not show a proficiency in physics?  

Dr. Calandra called the student in and gave him six minutes to have another try at the exam question.  The student’s answer was to take the barometer to the top of the building and drop it over the edge – timing its fall with a stopwatch. Then calculate the height of the building using the formula: S = ½ a t (squared). 

This still was not the “proper” answer, but the professor decided to give him almost full credit. As the student was leaving, Professor Calandra asked him if he had any other answers to the exam.  

“Oh, yes,” he answered. The student then explained how you could take the barometer and measure the height of the barometer and the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building and by the use of a simple proportion, determine the height of the building.  

The student offered another option: take the barometer and mark the height of the barometer as you climb the stairs. You can determine the height of the building in barometer units.  

Another solution was to tie the barometer to the end of a string and swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of ‘g’ at the street level and at the top of the building. From the difference of the two values, you can calculate the building’s height.  

The student’s favorite answer was to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent’s door.  Show him the barometer and offer to give it to him if he will tell you the height of the building.  


What has Jesus done for us?  We tend to get locked into one mode of answering that question. The Baptists are fond of saying they’re “born again,” while Lutherans claim they’re “justified by faith.”  

The Lord doesn’t limit himself to one metaphor. As we page through the Bible we discover God’s abundant creativity: he said he saved us when we were drowning, that he redeemed us by buying us out of slavery, that, as a kind banker, he has forgiven our enormous debt.  


The building had one, definite height. But the ways to discover its height are abundant.  

copyright 2012 by Marty Kaarre