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Beyond Words | Practical Theology

  • September 2023 Issue
Practical Theology

“Throughout the Bible, God uses images to help us understand what He is like. While these are not exact representations, they help us better comprehend His nature and power.”

How do you describe a God who is invisible to us? (John 6:46). How do we describe the glory of heaven to those who have never been there? If you are God, you use metaphors.

A metaphor is a figure of speech that uses things we know to help us understand the unknown. In their book, Metaphors We Live By, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson explain that humans naturally think in these kinds of comparisons: “Our ordinary conceptual system, in which we ordinarily think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature.” It shouldn’t surprise us that God created us to learn in this way. Our God communicates through language. He spoke the first words recorded in Scripture (Gen. 1:3).

Throughout the Bible, God also uses images to help us understand what He is like. While these are not exact representations, they help us better comprehend His nature and power. In the Bible, God is compared to a rock, a sun, and a shield (Rom. 9:33; Ps. 84:11). He is a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29). Jesus is the living bread that came down from heaven and the light of the world (John 6:51; 8:12)

In Creation, God did something even more impressive. He formed what we might consider a living metaphor: He made humanity in His image (Gen. 1:26–27). The important difference is the direction of the comparison. Scriptures repeatedly warn that God “is not a man” (Num. 23:19; Job 9:32; Hos.11:9; compare with Isa. 55:9). When the Bible says we are made in God’s image, it is telling us to look at God to understand our nature and purpose.

With the incarnation of Christ, God went beyond metaphor. Jesus is not a metaphor for God; He is God. In John 1:1, 14 the apostle says that the One who “was God” also “became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” Words help us understand what God is like. But ordinary words are not enough. As the Logos, Jesus is God’s last word about Himself (Heb. 1:1).

For Further Study

To learn more, read In the Beginning Was the Word: Language—A God-Centered Approach by Vern Poythress (Crossway).

BY Dr. John Koessler

John Koessler is Professor Emeritus of Applied Theology and Church Ministries at Moody Bible Institute. John authors the “Practical Theology” column for Today in the Word of which he is also a contributing writer and theological editor. An award-winning author, John’s newest title is When God is Silent: Let the Bible Teach You to Pray (Kirkdale). Prior to joining the Moody faculty, he served as a pastor of Valley Chapel in Green Valley, Illinois, for nine years. He and his wife, Jane, now enjoy living in a lakeside town in Michigan.

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