Umm….don’t linger there too long. 🙂
A good friend of mine said something recently that has really resonated in my soul. He said, “Every metaphor breaks down at some point.” NOW does the title make a little sense? 🙂
Since the fall of man, when man essentially became separate and alienated from God…God has been on a mission to redeem man back to Himself, to restore the relationship that was lost. It is a constant theme throughout Scripture, and I believe it continues today. Emergent/Missional types like to refer to this idea as “Missio Dei”–the mission of God.
Part of that mission requires that an infinite God try and define Himself in terms that finite, fallen humans can understand. If God is seeking relationship with us…who or what is He, and what will that relationship look like? Depending on the aspect of Himself that He’s trying to reveal…God will describe Himself using the verbiage of a whole range of human relationships. He uses these as metaphors, if you will, to try and describe who He is, and what He wants to be to us. Among these many relationship terms, God reveals Himself as a Father, a Judge, a Kinsman-Redeemer, a Bridegroom/Lover, a Mother, a Guardian, a Teacher, a Comforter, a Warrior, a Protector, a Provider…the list goes on and on.
All of these descriptive terms, and many others, taken together, paint a sort of picture of God and His intentions toward us–or at least as good of a picture as can be done using finite metaphors to describe an infinite God. If it were a real painting (for you artists out there)…I think it would be an Impressionist painting rather than a Realism painting. It’s God, seen “through a glass darkly”…but it’s God, as best as we can see Him in this life.
A tendency I see among us nowadays (and I am likewise guilty of it) is to focus on the particular metaphor-pictures of God that most resonate with us–and sometimes to shun the terms that do not resonate as much. For example…lots of people nowadays like to refer to God as “Father”, “Papa” or “Daddy”. Others–especially a few years ago–focused mainly on Jesus as our Bridgroom, or the Lover of our Soul, gravitating to worship songs with an almost romantic flair (I’ve actually written some songs like that)…which has prompted the coining of the derrogatory term, “Jesus-Is-My-Boyfriend” songs, and caused some people to decry and denounce that entire trend.
The fact is, there is nothing inherently wrong with seeing and relating to God as Father, or Jesus as a Bridegroom. There are some context issues to take into account, but both are Biblical. But here’s the problem with this:
Every metaphor breaks down at some point.
If you only focus on describing God in terms of one human relationship, your picture of God will become warped and distorted at some level.
- If you only see God as Father, you will balk when He has to render judgment. You’ll only want to crawl into His lap, when maybe it’s more appropriate at the moment to fall at His feet. (And even your idea of a “father” will be based somewhat on flawed human experiences.)
- If you only see Jesus as your Friend (read: “Homeboy”), you are more likely to relate to Him with hi-fives and chest-bumping, and you won’t show the proper respect that is due the Creator of the Universe.
- If you only see God as a Judge, you will likely be legalistic, inordinately hard on yourself, and even harder on others–and you won’t let yourself get emotionally close to God.
- If you only see Jesus as the Bridegroom and a Lover–admittedly, that can get just plain weird.
So if every metaphor breaks down, why use metaphors at all? Because when you take them together, not exalting one over the other…you get a more balanced picture of God. Each relationship metaphor reveals a different aspect of His nature. Like a mosaic, each piece fits in place to make the picture clearer–not perfectly clear, but certainly clearer than if you just focus on one piece.
I love how Paul put it: “For now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face.” (1 Cor. 13:12) That’s a really good way to put it. Right now…the metaphors, the analogies–they are all we have, all we are able to process with our finite nature. But one day…the picture will be crystal clear.
Because it won’t be a picture. It won’t be a metaphor, or a group of metaphors. It will be God. Face to face with us.
But for now…we need the metaphors, because they help us relate to an infinte God in a finite world. And we need all of them–not just the ones we like the best.