How many metaphors are embraced in the modern expression of our faith? How much of it is literal, and is this a bad thing?
Metaphors represent something that they themselves are not. They are the sign for the concert on Friday, the picture of a person in office, and the green bills that once referred to gold. But (aside from the last example), this isn’t a bad thing. Representatives, after all, is the form of government that made America so prosperous. Representatives are chosen, and not just the faces on the political party signs on the side of the road.
Representation means a sure link to something that is real. Metaphors are thus a kind of “middle man”, to use the colloquialism. Truthfully, metaphors are found all through our everyday communication. Words that convey a meaning are given, even though the words themselves were just used as a conduit for the message. Books are generally considered the great bearers of ideas, not-to-mention records, and formulas. These books are written with words though, even though they convey concepts that are much more then words.
In the context of our Christian faith, they are all over the place. Some may where a cross around their neck, some may where a testifying bracelet, or bumper stickers on the rear of their car. These are all representatives of a message. And the message itself is merely an entrance point into something much greater. But Christians know more about representation then anyone else. The ultimate example is the representation make on the cross, but other stories from Scripture are reminders of a covenant relationship. There was a rainbow after the flood, promising no more destruction by worldwide flood. And a Passover feast, representing God passing over those who listened to God in the midst of slavery. There was an Ebenezer stone, signifying God’s help in the midst of attack, or the stone of Bethel, representing God setting up a ladder from heaven to earth, promising to stay true to His promises.
Promises themselves are merely representations of something greater. The promise itself is the unseen evidence of the substance that was really ahead. This is an iconic Scripture for many Christians, found in Hebrews 11:1. The faith of Abraham was the indication God needed see to justify him, and it was also faith that was seen in the paraplegics who looked up to the Rabbi Yeshua prior to His marveling statement “your faith has healed you”… There are symbols also in our everyday lives of God working. We may hear an audible voice, but more likely, we merely see people doing acts of mercy and generosity. God may speak telepathically, or He may speak through a brother. The remarkable thing is, every child of God knows when it is God and when it isn’t. His sheep hear His voice” (Jn. 10:27)
So symbols are not the indication of weakness of Christianity, as though Christians have little tangible “substance” in their lives. Far from it, they merely hold onto symbols of greater substance. They hold a great trust in one who does not fail.