Analogies, Metaphors and the Incomprehensible God
|How might this picture speak metaphorically of God?|
How do we speak of God? That is the question I'm asking in a series of sermons during this season sermon that began with "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" and finished with a conversation about feminist theology. Together with the sermon I've been posting pieces on our God-Talk, and will continue doing so over the next few weeks.
In this posting I want to raise the question of theological language. If God is incomprehensible -- that is, we do not have access to God in God's essence. However, God is not without witnesses. We see God in God's effects. God has left us clues that allow us to envision God. It is important that we acknowledge that we cannot speak in a univocal manner. Whatever words and images we use are not one and the same as God. Nor are left with ambiguous/equivocal language. But we can use analogy and metaphor to speak of God in a way that is sensible and comprehensible.
Turning again to Catholic theologian Elizabeth A. Johnson, She points out that whenever we speak of God our speech is filtered through a "threefold motion of affirmation, negation, and eminence." She writes of this process:
A word whose meaning is known and prized from human experience is first affirmed of God. The same word is then critically negated to remove any association with creaturely modes of being. Finally, the word is predicated of God in a supereminent way that transcends all cognitive capabilities. [She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, p. 113]
So what does she mean by this process? Johnson continues:
For example when we say that God is good, the movement of meaning carried in the reference to God also indicates that God is not good in the way that creatures are good, but God is good in an excellent way as a source of all that is good. At this point we can no longer conceive the meaning of the word good, although it continues to point in the direction of holy mystery. [p. 113].
When we speak of God either through analogy (God as Father or God as Mother) or through metaphor (rock, lion), we have a sense of what these words mean and how they apply in a creaturely way. There is correspondence between these words and our speech about God, but God transcends our words and images. If this is true, then perhaps we will be freer in our use of analogy and metaphor to speak of God. As Johnson points out they open up a perspective on God, "directing the mind to God while not literally representing divine mystery" (p. 113).
Let us then speak of God, knowing that our speech has both limitations and provides opportunities to draw close to God and participate in the work of God as God chooses to be revealed in our midst.