A Journey to Metaphorland
When we meditate on the unsurveyable, untrackable riches of Christ, we need to remember that these riches are expressed mainly, if not completely, in metaphor. The Greek scriptures contain a wealth of metaphors, in the gospels, the epistles, everywhere. As poetic language (and Biblical poetry is a widely recognized genre) these metaphors should be more felt or intuited than analyzed, although I guess I do a fair amount of analysis myself.
Even words like riches and treasure are metaphors. For some of us they conjure up images from the vaults of Gringotts Bank or the Addams Family. The same goes for the talk of crowns, gold, and precious gems (but not their opposites: wood, hay, and stubble). The most common contemporary metaphors for wealth are images of briefcases filled with stacks of neatly wrapped bills, or the mention of Swiss bank accounts or offshore banking in the Cayman Islands. The metaphorical language of “riches” doesn’t resonate for me, although it undoubtedly works for many of us. It just feels a little abstract for me. That’s why there is such a rich variety of metaphors. What works for some people doesn’t work for others.
What does work for me are the several metaphors based on human relationships. Family relationship metaphors communicate riches and treasure to me, mainly because they connect me to God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit profoundly. One of the deepest relationship metaphors is the marriage metaphor.
We are the Bride of Christ
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church. (Eph 5:31-32)
For me, this is about as profound as it gets. In the past people have used “celestial flesh” language to speculate on what this means, but that seems a bit literal to me. Historical background can be very valuable in things like this, but it’s not necessary to master the history of any Bible passage through the maze of 2,000 years of historical theology to apply it to our lives today. If we’re talking about divinely inspired metaphors, we need to trust the adequacy of those metaphors. All intellectuals should know the relative attractiveness more study and information compared to experience and action.
Marriage, sexual content of the “one flesh” language, leaving father and mother — I’ve always compared my relationship with my wife to the church’s relationship with Christ. I’m struck with the fact that when I married Diane, I was marrying an equal, not a pet dog, a worm, or a drooling little sycophant.
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.
“Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19)
In my experience, the main time we hear about the profound “marriage supper” metaphor for our relationship with Christ, it is to relate it to the routine ceremony called the eucharist, to communion, instead of exploring what being Christ’s Bride, and eventually his Wife, means to us in terms of our identity. It’s relevance to who and what the Christian community genuinely is seems far more important to me than using the metaphor to justify once more that questionable hierarchical prop.
I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a Bride beautifully dressed for her Husband.
Come hither, I will show you the Bride, the Lamb’s Wife. (Revelation 21)
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come!” (Revelation 22)
Here we are not called the Wife, but the Bride. So this invitation of the hungry and thirsty is in the present tense, not after our cosmic consummation. It is significant to me that it is a joint invitation from the Holy Spirit of God and the Bride of Christ.
Created in God’s Image
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created mankind in his own image:
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1)
Speaking of historical theology, there are scads of interpretations about the meaning of Imago Dei, the image of God. Trinitarians believe that it is evidence of the plural nature of God, since the image of God includes being male and female. Anti-Homosexual rhetoric seems to imply that some union of opposites is intrinsic to the nature of God. Others suggest a tripartate human nature divided into body, soul, and spirit, which division is very Greek but exceedingly un-Hebrew.
The wide variety of interpretations is evidence of the subjective and metaphorical nature of the language used here. The book of Genesis is one of the best examples of the utilitarian nature of the Bible, but I have chased this rabbit about as far as I want for now.
For meditation, I would point out three things about the Imago Dei in Genesis:
- For human beings, the union of opposites can be taken far beyond male/female, and extend into the realm of the Incarnation as well.
- Whatever the precise meaning or definition of Imago Dei, it is nevertheless a fact that all of humankind, and (probably) every Homo sapien individually, is created in the image of God, every person you will ever meet.
- It is almost certainly true that the “nature of God” (I hope my use of the phrase is not too presumptuous) includes male and female, since the Imago Dei specifically and literally parallels “male and female” with “the image of God.” (In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.)
Our Goal: to be Perfectly One, Perfect Union, Perfect One-ness
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17)
This staccato style of repetitive equivalences is powerful when you break it down into parallel formulas.
- Being One = Mutual In-ness (you in me, I in you, I in them)
- Perfect Oneness, Perfect Unity, is Christ’s Desire for Us
- We are to Become One with One Another just as Christ and the Father are One
If you want to google this topic, it is frequently called Johannine Mysticism, or what it means to be “in Christ,” or Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer.
- The Father is in Christ
- Christ is in the Father
- We are in Christ and the Father
There are several obvious, but apparently not so obvious, statements embedded in this High Priestly Prayer of Jesus.
- The One-ness of Christians is “Literally” Patterned on the One-ness of God
- The world’s belief that the Father sent Christ depends on our One-ness
- The world’s knowledge of the Father’s love depends on our One-ness
Our One-ness with one another was one of Jesus’ chief desires for us. Our One-nes with the “Godhead” was one of Jesus’ chief desires for us. This One-ness of Jesus’ followers (that’s us) with Jesus and the Father is equivalent to our being perfected in love, to our entire sanctification, to walking in the Spirit, to being purified from the desires of the flesh, to presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice–all facets of that One diamond, all aspects of that One elephant.