No one serving as a soldier gets entangled in civilian affairs, but rather tries to please his commanding officer. Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules. The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops. Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this. – 2 Timothy 2:4-7 (NIV)
Good to know that the Lord is going to give us insight into all this, because none of us is going to find our way through all those metaphors without divine guidance. Are we Christians soldiers, athletes, or farmers? Or all three? And is that in series or parallel?
Pedants and old-school English teachers will no doubt groan at the piling up of these metaphors, but preachers and anybody who regularly tries to talk about the life of faith will understand. Not understand the actual metaphors, maybe, but they’ll definitely recognize the pile.
A God beyond knowing. A new realm barely imagined and infrequently glimpsed. Truths felt without words. Experiences that change you but that you don’t understand. Mystery upon mystery. If you’re trying to refer to all that—to any of that—with anything more than hand-waves, metaphor is always going to be the best you can do. Even Jesus had to resort to them.
All that to say that if you can’t quite articulate what you mean when you talk about God, if all you can do when you try to tell about your religious experience is to pile up a bunch of weird comparisons, you’re not alone. It’s all that any of us have managed so far.
You know what I’m trying to say, right God? Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is Chaplain of the Protestant Cooperative Ministry at Cornell University. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.