Earlier this August, our congregation’s sending hymn was “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It was strange to hear this song so far away from Reformation Sunday, but hearing it as part of a regular service and not on a high-festival day gave me a chance to really listen to the lyrics – something I haven’t done for many years. The imagery is fierce and militant. While some might find that comforting, I wonder if it’s the best metaphor for God.
I know the history of the time period in which Luther lived, work and wrote. I know that God as fortress, as bulwark (to use the older language), as sword and shield might have been remarkably effective for those listeners.
But I am weary of wars of all sorts. I’m weary of the horrific images from wars fought in other countries. I’m tired of seeing people fight battles on Facebook and other social media. I’d like different imagery.
I realize that the Bible is full of rich imagery, but it has problems, too. I think of all the agricultural metaphors and bread metaphors. Do they speak to people who have never made a loaf of yeasted bread? Every time we talk about seeds and harvests, I think of a recent experience with my church members as we took pumpkins off of a truck for our pumpkin patch.
One of the children asked, “Why are they so dirty?”
“Because last week they were growing in a field,” I said.
I could see the child looking at me. I could tell that he thought I might be joking; after all, he’s never seen pumpkins growing in a field. He may have never seen anything growing in a field.
If I were to write a hymn or a poem or a parable to explain my understanding of God to a person who has yet to meet God, what metaphors would I use?
I think of a dream that a friend of mine had, where she was in her house, but she went through a door and she found she had more rooms than she ever knew she had. I’d say that God is like that – if the rooms are full of treats, arts and crafts supplies and loved ones whom we haven’t seen in a while.
A quilt would make an obvious metaphor for both God and the church. I like the idea of a crafter taking scraps of cloth and making them into a larger item that has both beauty and utility. The God I know would combine fabrics into new patterns. The God I know would delight in bits of lace, ribbon and some interesting buttons as adornments.
I know that many people hate Facebook or other types of social media, but they’re a means of communication that help many of us stay connected. I see God as my Facebook feed on my birthday, full of messages from people throughout my past, all of whom are writing to wish me well. Facebook at its best reminds me that I am surrounded by a wide world of love. God’s love is vast like that.
And for those of us who would want a non-human-made metaphor, I’ve been thinking of God as a forest of old-growth trees, quiet and majestic and not needing to explain anything to anyone. I’ve been thinking of God as a coral reef, something that sustains a variety of creatures and keeps the ocean healthier than it would be without a coral reef.
I could go on and on, but let me stop here. It’s a fun exercise to do alone, and I imagine it would be an even more interesting exercise to do in a group. It’s a different way to talk about God, and if the metaphors work, it’s a different way to know God.