Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Christian Metaphor, part 1

My religious upbringing cautions me to not even venture into the realm of suggesting that certain of our religious teachings, held up by years of theological discussion, and seen as divine truths, ought to be considered in any light other than that of literal understanding.  Yet I shall dare to do so anyway, because I believe that the value of our religious truths may actually be found in their symbolic meaning, rather than in their literal interpretation. (Or at the very least, it’s found equally in both, regardless if the truth is seen as metaphor or literal fact.)

I do want to provide the caveat that I am merely trying to think outside the box, and this series is not a statement of my faith (or lack thereof), but rather a train-of-thought deliberation, the likes of which I've often had in the past but failed to capture in words.  Since such philosophical wonderment occurs to me periodically and never fails to somehow deepen my conviction and clarify God's will for me, I am confident that by being open to the moving of the Holy Spirit, anything contrary to righteousness will be made evident to me in the course of this exercise.

The Personification of God

Let us start with the most difficult concept for many non-Christians to wrap their minds around – the personification of God in the person of Jesus, especially as part of a divine trinity of persons.  If God is One, how can there be three persons of God?  I think the problem begins already with the personification of God as a “being” rather than as an abstract concept. 

* God is Love

We often hear it said, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, et al).  Yet love is an abstraction.  Love is not a person, like Cupid or Aphrodite.  Love is an experience of affinity towards another being, a sense of drawing near and desiring the company and welfare of a given individual.  Love is that which keeps us together and links us into units of couples, families, groups of friends.  What do we all have in common?  Love! 

Yet for some reason, it seems terribly inadequate to the modern ear (perhaps more accurately: to the modern, western, Christian ear) to define God as “just” an abstraction.  Already, we are faced with an undeniable truth of human nature: we are self-centered.  Original sin, after all, is nothing more than the putting of our own interests first!  (More on that later.)  Therefore, if we are to believe in a God, that God must be bigger and better and more impressive than we are – somehow “more than” human, but certainly not “less than” human, and we see abstractions as lesser than persons. 

And so we personify God as a “He”, likening Him to a Father.  There is definitely value in so doing.  Because we share love with other people, we want to feel closeness to God in the same way we experience closeness to family and friends.  What we fail to remember is that God isn’t at the other end of that which connects us to each other; rather, God is actually the “thing” that connects us.  Connections can be severed; individuals can be separated.  But nothing from the outside can interfere with a person’s experience of love.  Once felt, a person will forever reminisce over specific instances when it was most obvious, and long to experience it again and again.  So we personify God because we cannot think of Him in terms that are not familiar to us, and abstractions are not very familiar to us. 

* What we knew as babies

But if we allow for the lines to get blurry between what constitutes a person and what constitutes an experience (this may take a lot of effort and imagination), we begin to catch glimpses of what Jesus must have meant when He said “the Father and I are one” (John 10:30).  We don’t remember this, but we actually do have human experiences that mimic what Jesus is talking about.

When a baby is newly born, she does not yet have a concept of self.  She doesn’t understand that there’s such a thing as “not-I” versus “I”.  She doesn’t have object permanence, so what she is currently experiencing is the only thing that exists for her.  There is no hoping for the future, no regretting the past, no comparing self to others. Where is the baby before birth?  Is she not literally one body with the mother?  Doesn't the mother experience the baby's presence and isn't the baby directly affected by what the mother does?  Everywhere the mother goes, so goes the baby.  There is no separating them.  And yet, we know that they are two persons in one body.  After birth, the baby initially maintains this understanding of reality as evidenced by the breastfeeding relationship God instituted as a transition for both into separate people. 

Therefore, from the baby's point of view, "baby and momma are one".  I think this is parallel to the way Jesus saw Himself and God-the-Father as one.

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