Sunday, May 20, 2007

God and His People: Limiting the Use of Biblical Metaphors

The bible uses quite a number of metaphors to describe the relationship between God (and/or Christ) and His people. This is because the relationship is complex. Many metaphors are used, as analogies, simply because this relationship can't be described in its fullness. Every analogy fails at some point, so each metaphor has its limitations.

So when we restrict the number of metaphors used in describing this relationship, we do violence to this relationship. Off the top of my head, here are some metaphors describing our relationship to God:

God is our God, we are His people. God is a Father, we are His children. Christ is the vine, we are the branches. God/Christ is the Lord/King, we are His subjects. Jesus is the Master, we are His disciples. Jesus is Master, we are servants. Christ is the head, the church is the body, with individuals being members of the body. Christ is the bridegroom, the church is the bride. Christ is the heir, we are co-heirs. We are brethren, Christ is our elder brother. Christ is the temple, we are the stones. We are the temple, the apostles are the foundation, and Christ is the cornerstone. Christ is the shepherd, we are the sheep (individuality) and Christ is the shepherd, we are the flock (community).

Some, like the high-church types, limit our relationship to maybe a few of these metaphors. Others, to quote a pastor friend of mine, "like Rome, almost drop the metaphor completely and assume a genuine ontological reality - the most obvious example is what they do with the 'body of Christ.' It's a metaphor, not an ontological statement about the extension of Jesus' incarnation!" Much of what goes on in Protestant theology, as well, limits our existence to the confines of the church, and its few metaphors, when the greater applications of metaphors suggest that the kingdom, and our relationship to God in it, is far greater than the church.


  1. I agree - let's keep the metaphors in the writing but let's speak freely about our relationship with God and with one another - not in some metaphorical way either. Hey, is using brother/sister a metaphor?

  2. As someone in her 40s who has never married (but I had wanted to be), I think the marriage analogy/metaphor, where preachers often compare marriage to the church and God, is extremely over-used (in evangelical and Baptist venues) and makes me (as an unmarried person) feel excluded.

    If marriage was only used as an illustration on occasion in sermons, I could deal with it just fine, but it's one of the few comparisons/examples preachers use, and they do it a lot.

    I'm not the only unmarried person to notice this. A lot of other older singles find the regular references to church as bride, God/Christ as groom, comparing marriage to God, etc, in church sermons and literature very tiring.