“Metaphor is the only language we have to talk of God”.
As a songwriter, I have become increasingly harder on myself when I’m in the lyric writing stage of my process. Most of that, is that I realize that my daily experience is in some ways unique, and in other ways not at all unique. So I have to take my experience and put it into language that is interesting and compelling. It can be a tall task sometimes. The method most commonly used is that of metaphor. Metaphor is different than simile. Simile uses “like” or “as” to make a comparison. “God is like the wind“. Metaphor just makes the comparison. “God is the wind beneath me”. Both can be incredibly powerful tools in language to paint a picture that moves people. Both can also be overused and overstated, and therein lies the battle.
The Bible has many metaphors for God. He is the potter, a fountain, a bread, a light, a rock, the beginning and end, a vine, physician, a door, and I could go on. This is how we begin to understand God. Through comparison. We realize that the human institution of language fails at describing God. It doesn’t do it justice, so even Biblical authors compared God to inanimate objects.
So then what about Jesus?
All sects of the Christian church that I know of hold to a “trinitarian theology”. Meaning that God is 3 beings, equally. Father. Spirit. Son. Look at that, more metaphors. Libraries of books have been written on this and continue to be. We think of Jesus as the literal incarnation of God and spirit, who was both fully human and fully God, and who walked with us in human form. We’ve developed sermons, books, talks, and ministries devoted to this literal Jesus, trying to prove his actual existence, and the occurrences of his life as told by the Bible. We can talk about the original manuscripts and who wrote what to whom and why and how old they were and it all adds up to a very compelling case. We call this “apologetics”. I should first state, that I am all for removing intellectual roadblocks to people so they can see the bigger picture, as long as it’s done with grace, respect, and vulnerability. Apologetics has had a huge impact on me. It gave me something tangible and real. Literal. True. The problem was, that was all that mattered.
Literalism, if we’re not careful, can lead us into dualistic thinking. Dualistic thinking is just our brains saying “this is good, this is bad, he’s in, she’s out, this is right, this is wrong, etc”. Dualistic thinking is attractive to our brains, like chocolate (that’s a simile). It’s easy for our brains to digest and process. It tastes good. It gives us confirmation bias. Frees us from worry. Dualistic thinking is everywhere. It’s in our stories, our sports, our pop culture. It tells us we are safe. It tells us we are not the problem. It tells us we have arrived. The problem is, this thinking often causes us to miss the big picture. It did me.
So then what about Jesus?
Jesus Christ is so much bigger than that. He transcends human thought, emotion. He even transcends our historical records. He gave us a gift, the gift of metaphor. A real one. Literal and analogical. He is both myth and legend. Story and fact. Tangible and untouchable. Graspable and beyond mysterious. Not just true, but truer than true.
In his birth he taught us that we must be spiritually reborn and find humility. In his life he taught us how to grow, to learn, to love. He taught us how to include, how to be angry, and how to stand up for the least of these. In his suffering he taught us how to love through suffering, and how to forgive. And in his death he taught us that we too, must die to ourselves. And through that death and resurrection and ascension into His full divinity, we too must be resurrected to reach our full humanity.
And it. Is. Beautiful. Now we are the body of Christ. We are co-creators with God. The temple. The salt. The caretakers of creation, and the light to the world. And we must let Him live in us and through us. We must love as He did, because love is how we truly experience God, because God is love. Our intellect will always fail us. We must stop letting this Gospel be only transactional and make it transformational. So it is my hope that we would do all of these things, be all of these things, and be a force for good in this world. And we can, if we’d just stop missing the metaphor.