Different metaphors and images for God (MIPodcast Moments)

05.13.2016 | The Maxwell Institute

An excerpt from the full transcript of the MIPodcast interview with Lauren F. Winner, now available HERE.

Lauren F. Winner

BLAIR HODGES: And there are few images or roles for God that I think are pretty widely held by Christians—things like God as “father,” God as “shepherd,” God as a “physician.” LAUREN WINNER: Right. HODGES: But those are kind of the main ones. I think Christianity, in a way, has kind of stopped at those. Why do you think that is? Why pick a few? Why have we kind of stayed at that level? WINNER: Well, I actually don’t think it’s true that Christianity has stopped at those. I think that different historical moments in the life of the church have paid more or less attention to different images and different biblical passages and biblical metaphors. Part of what I loved in doing the research for this book, in Wearing God, I look particularly at six kind of clusters of figurative language from the scriptures for God. And part of what was fascinating was to see that basically all of these images—even though they aren’t images that we pay very much attention to today—that in earlier moments in church history in some Christian communities these were really central images for speaking about God and speaking to God and speaking about our relationship with God. And so I think it’s interesting that different communities in different times and places in the life of the church will focus in on a handful of images. And maybe that’s just human nature, right? Maybe it’s just entirely predictable that a community will home in on few images, and pray with those and preach about those and write those into their hymnody. And of course when you do that, on the one hand those images become more meaningful. They become meaningful precisely because they are invoked and used all the time. […] But then there’s a less exciting thing that can happen and that is that the images can become kind of rote, you know, and the person praying with those images can become kind of insensible to them and not really ponder what they mean and just sort of use them almost as placeholders. And then you sort of forget about the mysterious abundance that they’re holding the place for. So all of that was a very long way of saying I think that on the one hand, there’s a richness that comes when you live intimately with a few metaphors or descriptions of God but there’s also a danger. And I think it’s very telling that the scriptures include so very many different metaphors for God. I think part of that very abundance in the scriptures is the constant reminder that we really shouldn’t get too comfortable with any one or two or three of these images because none of them will ever capture, you know, the whole of who God is and we shouldn’t restrict… when the scriptures don’t restrict the scriptural imagination to the images then neither really should we in the church restrict our imaginations to, you know, just father, a great physician, and shepherd.  
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