From the Psalter:
O Lord my stronghold, my crag, and my haven. My God, my rock in whom I put my trust, my shield, the horn of my salvation, and my refuge.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 18:1-2 (BCP Version) – December 5, 2013.)
What a great couple of verses to illustrate metaphoric thinking!
I’m reading an old book of popular theology from the 1960s in which one of the essays is about the church and the arts. In it the author makes the point that metaphors or artistic analogs are ways of “changing one’s mind.” They break through intellectual barriers and challenge literal preconceptions. The theological imagination must be an analogic imagination; the only way we can know anything about God is through analogs and metaphors.
Of course, we know clearly that God is not a crag, a shield, a horn, a refuge, a whatever. But God is like these things in some fashion; these things are metaphors that give us a hint of what God might be like. (I know, using “like” makes the analog a simile not a metaphor; deal with it.)
Another form of analogic thinking is the parable. Jesus taught primarily through parables. He did so because giving people straight-up philosophical principles or rules of how to live doesn’t work; it is perceived by one’s audience as … well … boring and uninteresting. But tell them a story of people killing their landlord’s son? You got ’em, Jesus, you got ’em!
Here’s something I don’t quite get, though. God becomes a human (incarnate, we say) in the person of a master storyteller who goes around breaking down his listeners’ intellectual barriers by using simile, metaphor, and parable . . . and a lot of his followers turn out to be literalists, swallowing the nonsense of biblical inerrancy and insisting that everything in the bible is scientific truth. How does that happen? I don’t get it.
So here’s a fun exercise for Advent . . . make up a really ridiculous metaphor or parable of the divine, and explore how that analog might inform your understanding of God. Things like “Jesus is my hot beverage.” (Thanks to my son and his Happening friends for that one.) Or one I suggested a few days ago, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a lawnmower.” Try “God is my kitchen sink” or “the Kingdom of heaven is like a bus station where someone gave away tickets” or, better yet, make up your own.
Exercise your analogic imagination. It will help you to understand that Scripture is too serious to be taken literally! It’s what Jesus would do; it’s what Jesus did!
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.