Let Metaphor Be Metaphor & Hear God

Let me start by laying it out straight: the use of Father to refer to or to describe God is metaphor. God is not literally the father of human beings. The Divine is indescribable. Various theologies, including my own, are simply our ways of talking about the mysterium tremendum. (Merriam-Webster defines mysterium tremendum as overwhelming mystery.) This is an assumption from which I begin. 

The metaphor of a Father God can help us to describe our experiences of the Divine. For those who have abusive or even just strained relationships with fathers or men, however, this metaphor can make it harder to relate to the Divine. Such is the nature of metaphors; they’re subject to personal biases.

There is also always a point at which any metaphor breaks down. Imagine using a bicycle as a metaphor to describe “car” to someone who has never seen a car. A bicycle is similar to a car: it has wheels and it is a form of transport. Carry out that metaphor and you run into problems. While you feel the breeze on a bike, you can only feel the breeze in a car if the windows are down. Your physical well-being is enhanced by biking whereas the opposite can be true with driving. A car can carry a bike but it is quite a feat for a bike to carry a car. Likewise, when we use Father as a metaphor for God, it works only up to a point. It eventually breaks down. A bike is not a car and a father is not God.

This is the problem with a literal, “inerrant word of God” approach to the Christian Bible. The Bible is filled with metaphors. Metaphors reflect truths but they are not truth themselves. The bicycle for car metaphor reveals a truth about “car.” Both are a form of transportation operated by human beings but they are not the same thing.

In much the same way, the collected stories of ancient peoples’ theologies and  experiences of God (the Bible) reveal truths to us. If we take them literally, we limit God’s voice. We constrain Divine truths to written words on a page. The Divine, what I call God, and spirituality are overwhelming mysteries. In the biblical texts, in the sacred writings of other traditions, in the faces of children, and in the natural world that sustains us are glimpses of the overwhelming mystery. We must learn what we can from metaphors and then let them go. Only then, will we glimpse the living, growing, unfolding, dance of the Divine beyond the metaphor.

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