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Sermon Series on Metaphors for GodTitle: God is like a hen, and much more!*
How do you talk about God? How do you describe God? The ways we speak about God influence our images of God, our beliefs, and our theology.
The Bible teaches that God is greater than humans and far above what humans can think. Karl Barth, a Swiss theologian, called God “the Wholly Other”. God is beyond human experience and beyond human language. God is greater than any manifestation of life on earth. God is greater than either maleness or femaleness.
The Bible also teaches God was revealed to Abraham and Sarah in three promises (great nation, land, and a son), revealed to the Hebrew slaves in Egypt as a God who is concerned about the poor (widow and orphan) and delivers people from bondage, and most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Throughout the Bible people of faith speak and write about God’s majesty, might, power, and love through many rich metaphors. Very familiar metaphors include, God is like a shepherd (Psalm 23), a king (Psalm 47:2, etc.), a rock and fortress (Psalm 18:2, 91:2), and a Father (Psalm 103:13, etc.). The Bible also describes God in more graphic, dare I say, disturbing metaphors, God is a warrior (Exodus 15:3) or like a wild dog who brings down Israel’s enemies (Psalm 59). The Bible also describes God in less familiar metaphors: God is mysterious (Exodus 3:13-15), God is like an eagle who carries them on its wings (Deuteronomy 32:11 and Exodus 19:4), a hen who gathers her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34), a woman who searches for a lost coin ( Luke 15:8-10), two letters of the Greek alphabet (Revelation 22:13), a woman in labour (Isaiah 42:14), a seamstress or tailor who “stitches and mends” (Genesis 3:21), one who knits (Psalm 139:13,15), and many more!
One of the challenges Christians have faced throughout history has been to try to capture the essence of God in language and ideas that are too small. (For example, see Isaiah 40:12-26.) When we perceive and understand God only within our cultural or tribal forms, we try to put God into our own little boxes. All believers must be constantly on the watch against this temptation.
The best corrective for our limited perspective is to look to the Bible for guidance. The Bible has a rich range of metaphors, similes, and adjectives which it uses to point to God. None of these words or expressions gives us the full picture of who God is, but when taken together they present us with a fuller witness.
To put it another way, although metaphors can expand our understanding of God, they can also limit our understanding of God—if we forget they are metaphors! No single metaphor can capture the entirety of who God is and what God is like. As Carolyn Bohler, pastor and author of several children’s books once wrote: “Monotheism is a belief in one God, not a belief in one metaphor”.
In this God-talk sermon series, I want to explore some of the biblical metaphors for God, what these metaphors teach us about God, and what, if any, implications their usage has for us today. The Scriptures’ inclusion of so many metaphors for God keeps us awake to the fact that none of them captures the whole of God.
Please join me on this journey where we reflect on the richness of the biblical metaphors for God, with the hope that our faith will be nurtured, deepened, and strengthened.
* I couldn’t resist borrowing much of the title for the sermon series from a children’s book, God is like a Mother Hen and much, much more by Carolyn Bohler (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996)