Christians and Metaphors

By Kersley Fitzgerald

My dog is slowly attempting to shirk her title of "World's Most Neurotic Dog." She's about 12, and at this rate it'd take another 87 years, so I don't think she's going to make it, but she's trying. Before we got her, she'd had a litter of puppies, and I always wondered if that had something to do with it. My suspicions were bolstered one Friday night. A friend brought three week-old abandoned kittens to Bible study. I wanted to see what Cinnamon would do, so I held them out for her to sniff. She sniffed, licked, and whined, but didn't try to hurt them. We put them on her dog bed to see if she would cuddle with them and give them love.

More sniffing. More whining and talking. Nosing them to flip them over. Pawing at the bed and circling. Crying and panting.

"What is she doing?" I asked, somewhat rhetorically.

"Did she ever have puppies?" the cat-foster-mother asked.

"Yeah, before we got her. But that was over ten years ago."

"Female dogs learn to count as high as the number of puppies they have," she said. "Apparently she had more than three. There are some missing."

Cinnamon was beside herself. I was heartbroken for her. We finally had to give her Benadryl and put the kittens back in the box. Even then, although she was quiet, she couldn't rest.

It immediately reminded me of God's words to Israel in Isaiah 49:15:
Can a woman forget her nursing child,
       that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
       yet I will not forget you.
It was the picture brought to life. And very useful to me because I think in images. I rarely think in words. I pray in images — both visual and emotional. Speaking is hard and takes a lot of effort because words are so limited and can never exactly express what I'm trying to say — even if I can remember what words I mean to use. The other night, as a friend was describing how she's trying to determine if her family's worldview was correct or if everyone else's was, I compared it to being raised in Wonderland. Now she's in the real world. But which one is really real? A word picture like that says so much more than fifteen minutes of literal analysis.

And the writers of the Bible, in their poetic, Jewish way, knew this. Jesus is the Lion and the Lamb, the stumbling stone, and the capstone (Mark 12:10). He "stands at the door and knocks" and gives us an easy yoke. He calls us to be salt and light and warns us against "wolves in sheep's clothing" (Matthew 7:15). And He also taught using nearly forty different parables.

That's why I'm hesitant to criticize metaphors used to describe Christian concepts. Like, "Asking Jesus into your heart." Of course you're not asking Jesus to live inside your meaty blood pump. And there is far more involved in the lifelong Christian walk than "asking Jesus in." And if you're Calvinist, there's another long list of complaints regarding who's asking whom.

But for someone who's visual, and who completely related to the movie Inside Out, it's a decent word-picture: "I need to invite the influence and lordship of Jesus into that part of me that holds my identity and the motivations for my actions. I need to do this daily, but before I can do it daily, I have to do it the first time." There are many more conversations to be had about sanctification and submission and grace and growth, but this is one conversation and it can be helpful in the beginning.

There's another that's trickier because it has a lot of teaching behind it that isn't biblical — it's "soul tie." No, I don't believe that your soul can be "tied" to someone else. But I have experienced unhealthy emotional connections. Those times when you're with someone who is upset, and you start thinking like they do. We once had a friend staying at our house who (as she does frequently) had a meltdown. She stepped out of the house, and I went to my room to pray. I started to feel abandoned. I wanted to get in my car and leave. I felt not just discouraged, but bereft of all hope. After a while, I remembered that I don't feel these things. Like, ever. I was feeling what she feels on a daily basis. At that point, I was able to ask Jesus into the situation, to take me back into the truth and away from whatever influence she was having. I don't even pretend to understand how this connection occurs, but I've recognized it a few other times, as well. And while the term "soul tie" has too much baggage, it's handy shorthand in the moment I'm praying to be released.

Another that's related is "putting the cross between" yourself and another person or situation. I don't think this metaphor is that well-known, but I really appreciate it. For me, it means to recognize and accept that Jesus protects my heart from people and situations. That only He sees the truth of the matter, and if I want to know the truth, I need to ask Him and use a biblical perspective. And as I see people, I need to remember how much Jesus loves them, and act accordingly.

Funny how all my examples had to do with prayer.

I think the Christian community is often unnecessarily defensive against metaphors. Which is a shame, because it was the primary way Jesus taught and David worshiped. And this environment is going to get worse as short articles on the internet replace literature in the world's reading experiences. I'd say we need to be careful with our metaphors, and leave time to explain them when necessary. But don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Oh — I mean — don't dismiss the use of metaphors just because some have been abused and misunderstood.

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Controversial-Issues  | Personal-Life

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Published 5-9-16