How would you describe snow to a friend who has never seen it? Or explain the sweetness of chocolate, or the magnitude of New York City? You may say, “New York City is sort of like your hometown, but bigger, brighter, louder, and there are tons of people everywhere.” Or “Snow, you see, is like soft, cold cotton. Sometimes it falls from the sky like fairies dancing on the wind, other times it is steadier like a white rain. And when it snows a lot, everything is calm and quiet.” The words and literary devices you use will determine whether or not your friend receives an understanding of snow, chocolate, and the Big Apple.
The more I read the Bible, the more I am enthralled with it for the way its authors use words. More so, I am enthralled with God for this feat, since I believe He played a mysterious and purposeful part in the construction of Scripture.
The Old and New Testaments are littered with simile, metaphor, personification, and other literary devices. We can see this in the way Jesus describes the kingdom of heaven to His listeners; the kingdom of heaven is like…, and elsewhere He uses stories; there once was a man who sewed seed in his field… This use of language is especially true when the biblical authors are describing God. How else should a fragile, finite, and fallen man understand his omnipotent, infinite, and holy Creator? I use understand loosely, of course.
Of the many different ways language is used in Scripture, I wanted to hone in on metaphor for today. Below are just a few examples of metaphors for God (unintentionally all from the Old Testament), some of which may offer us a novel perspective on Him.
Metaphors Describing God
God is our father, we are the clay and He is the potter (Isaiah 64)
God is a shepherd (Psalm 23)
God is king over all the earth (Psalm 47)
God is a flourishing pine tree (Hosea 14)
God is a mother comforting her son (Isaiah 66)
God is a(the) rock (Deuteronomy 32:4)
God is a protective mother bird (Psalm 91:4)
Some of these metaphors are familiar to us such as a father or potter, but what does the image of a mother bird or a pine tree tell us about God? He has feathers and He chirps? He is prickly and smells like Christmas? Perhaps, rather, He cares for His people and He is strong, sturdy, and dependable.
We know God is not actually a shepherd, or mother, or pine tree. But these allow us to understand on some level what our God is like. Likewise, God is not actually a father, or even male for that matter. In fact, God does not have a gender at all but is something quite removed from our menial definitions of identity. This topic in and of itself could be the center of some great discussions which I may come back to at another time, but for now will leave to you. Lately I’ve been trying to talk in ways that reflect my theology, saying things like ‘I can’t wait for the new creation’ instead of ‘I can’t wait until we get to heaven’ for example. I’m still trying to figure out how to use theologically consistent pronouns when referring to God in some cases (himself vs. Godself/IAMself?), so if you have any ideas please share!
Hopefully this was informative, witty, or at the very least not a miserable read. If you have any comments, concerns or questions, let’s talk.
Tyler B. Wilson