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June 7, 2014

God as metaphor, mystery and goodness

I’ll be forever grateful to one of my professors of theology who said, “All language about God is metaphorical.” It is incredibly freeing to think that we will never figure out or name the rhyme and reason of the universe precisely.

Nowhere is this more true than in the “Why do bad things happen” question (if there is a God who is good and powerful) that most everyone asks at some point. It is a comfort to me that Job did not get a clear answer, but he still spoke of experiencing a “redeemer.” It is a comfort to me that Jesus did not give a simple explanation for why a man was born blind, but simply pointed to what goodness and healing could come from it.

Similarly, Rabbi Harold Kushner does not definitively answer the question “why,” but entitles his book “When” bad things happen to good people. In tragedies of innocent suffering, God is usually described as healer, deliverer or savior, not as one who “sent it.”

I’m satisfied with the idea that many things happen in the universe with a certain amount of randomness. Years ago a beloved friend of mine contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease, and to the many who thought she must always be asking, “Why me,” she would respond, “Why NOT me?”

The universe is obviously made with principles of freedom, and freedom also includes viruses and bacteria and other organisms that can cause illness. To her, the best metaphors for God would be words like comforter or compassionate presence. That is how the spirit of goodness or love came to her.

Prayerful songs or psalms are always using metaphorical language to describe the mystery of God.

Songs of hope and trust speak of God as raising us up “on eagle’s wings” or “sheltering us under (his) wings.” Would anyone understand this literally? That God is an eagle? Or that we would benefit from large wings over us?

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