There are two prongs of spirituality: Who is God? and Who am I? They must both be present, and they cannot be separated. They are interwoven, they develop together. They inform each other.
Words can be a tool to see how this is working.
All the metaphors we use to describe God are relational, they tell us how to respond to and interact with God. Playing with these metaphors opens up new ways of relating, new ways of being. There must be congruence between the metaphors we use for God and how we live. Or rather the metaphors we use for God call the way we live into congruence.
If we hold the belief that God is the Master Authority in the universe, but live as self-directed, not under authority, then they do not match.
If we understand God as a good loving father, then we must live as the self-assured, confident, and beloved child, valuing ourselves and our natural ways/gifts, as well as seeing others as beloved children and valuing their differences.
If we trust that Christ set us free from the bondage of sin, then we must live free, we must refuse to be held in bondage or to let others be. Our lives must be full of and overflowing with liberation.
No single metaphor is sufficient to encapsulate our awesome and expansive God. But we can deliberately choose to focus on one particular metaphor when we need the ways of living it invites us into.
When we are struggling to accept ourselves, to love ourselves, to forgive ourselves, then a metaphor of a loving parent (mother or father, whichever is more effective) can be of great value.
We must stop and consider how the metaphors of God we use and prioritise invite us to be living.
If God is authority, but not loving, judging not accepting, then we are more likely to want to rebel, to not “do as we’re told”, to not want to communicate freely and openly. Self-protection begins to take priority over submission.
If God is distant in heaven, Christ resurrected and seated at the right hand of the Father, distant from humanity in His God-liness, then it can be a challenge to relate, challenging to even consider asking God where your favourite t-shirt is or where you left the car keys. Why would you ask this God for an easy carpark when He seems so removed from the mundane of our lives?
But Emmanuel, God-with-us? Jesus, the God-man? That image evokes a different response from us.
God longs to be in relationship with us. Genesis tells us that’s how we were created to be. But our gentle God will not force it on us. Rather there is a standing invitation, a ready welcome just waiting for us.
The language we use about God can work to further extend that invitation or to hinder it.
Part of being a Christian is a striving to be more Christ-like, more godly, more like our God. But stop for a minute and consider the image of God you are striving towards.
Our image of God is made up of what we believe is good and holy, the best any being can be. This image will be made up of our highest values and aspirations.
If we value creative work, we are likely to also emphasize a Creator God. If we revere right actions, right conduct, we will likely focus on a righteous, holy, and just God.
This also works in reverse. When we focus on the Love God has and is, we strive to be loving in the same way. When we understand God as a masculine being (or made up of masculine traits), then we value and aspire to masculine ways of being over feminine.
Who we understand God to be and who we expect ourselves to be or become are inextricably linked. Yet often the words we use to describe God go unexamined.
What are your default ways of addressing or referring to God? Do you always start praying with the same words?
How might your prayers change if you changed this?
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