Metaphors use a blend of realistic narrative and imagistic poetry to address the deepest concerns of humanity. Metaphors evolve within a language and can profoundly influence perception, speech, even decision making.
We use metaphors all the time in order to say something about things we know little about. “It was a hairy situation.”
Metaphors are utilized because it’s impossible to express ideas that can’t be stated in plain language without a loss of meaning.
Conventional wisdom meshes with rhetoric to produce metaphors that give us something to identify with. “God is father.”
Metaphors have proven their worth for millenniums although they are risky and open-ended. The child with an abusive horrible father doesn’t want to hear about a God who is father. So, other metaphors enter the scene, “God is mother, energy, the universe, a river that never stops…”
One must live with the risk of metaphors since there is no way to get at the principal subject of that which can’t be regulated to our limited language. The unlimited God can never be described in full with the human language.
The down-side of metaphors is when theological reflection is replaced with human conviction. It’s when the reader attempts to wed the two subjects of ordinary life and the transcendent. It’s when the ordinary becomes the principal focus and God becomes the subsidiary awareness.
For example, in the study of Christian Science, I read Mary Baker Eddy’s exegesis of the book Revelation, a book replete with metaphors.
In Revelation of the New International Version, chapter 10, the metaphor of an angel “holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand,” is considered. The question is asked, “Did this scroll contain the revelation of divine Science?” (21st Century Science and Health)
This question maintains the metaphorical stance. It’s metaphysical. It doesn’t reverse the ordinary and the transcendent and ask, “Is this scroll, or book in the angels hand the physical book titled, Science and Health?”
There is nothing wrong with identifying a physical book with the book in the angels hand, but to make a decision based on this literal interpretation will lead to flawed circumstances and disappointment because the decision attempted to reduce a revelation to a physical thing, it attempted to make the infinite into something finite.
We can steer clear of the traps of trying to close the open-endedness of a metaphor. And, experience revelations.For example, the common metaphor depicting God as father produces images of horror to a child who was abused by their human father. Or it can be confusing to a child. Therefore we have mothers who see through metaphors and make sure not to interpret them literally.
For example, the other day, my cousin told me about her husband and I felt a touch of revealed divine knowledge.
Her husband is one of 6 children who grew up with a war-bride mom and an alcoholic father. The father drank himself to death when the children were younger. Their mom told them, “You are not your father. You are you. You make your own choices.” All six children grew into responsible, family oriented, successful individuals. What a nice revelation to know we are individuals, separable from human history and capable of wonderful goodness.
The revelation of divine Science is spiritual, a spiritual force, alive and well. It’ a spiritual knowledge that can be applied in the human experience to align our thoughts to divine Spirit, Truth, and Love.