One of my great regrets from college is never taking the class “The Bible as Literature” that my English department offered. I realize that most other people’s college regrets involve some version of red solo cups and beer pong, but what can I say – I’ve always been a hopeless rule-follower (to wit: I recently found out that apparently I’m the only person I know who actually flosses twice a day, every day – all I know is my dentist told me that when I was 8 and so that’s what I do #straightarrow).
In any case, friends who took the course – friends of both the churchgoing and non-churchgoing persuasion – all told me they loved it, and it’s not hard for me to imagine why. The Bible is chock full of so many beautiful metaphors and similes (#throwback to HS English class where we learned the difference between the two) it’s a beautiful read no matter your beliefs. Maybe it’s because the entire book is about trying to make the unseen seen, about concepts that are so big and vast and beyond our comprehension – faith, love, death, rebirth, redemption, justice, mercy, grief, joy, forgiveness – that the only way we can hope to understand them is by anchoring them with some real-life examples we can relate to.
The relational metaphors in the Bible are some of my favorites – verses that describe God as our Father, that cast the church as the bride and Jesus as the bridegroom, verses about how we are His beloved children. There’s something so powerful in that because we get those relationships somewhere deep and visceral in our heads and our hearts – they resonate deeply. Even if we ourselves don’t play those specific roles, we get the love between parent and child, husband and wife, brother and sister – we speak that language.
I’m not a parent, but some of my oldest and dearest friends are and seeing their love for their children – fierce, unshakable and inexhaustible (thought often exhausting courtesy of 3am wake up calls) makes me understand God’s love in a whole new way.
I’m not married, but I have had the privilege to “do life” with people who are in really good marriages – not perfect, not fairytale, not without pain and tears and hard seasons, but marriages that show me what real love looks like – what true partnership, strength and being for each other is all about.
I am a daughter, and I know that the love both of my parents poured into my life has made it much, much easier for me to believe in a loving God, to understand what unconditional love and sacrifice look like.
Sometimes I think that every experience in life, every person and promotion, every failure and success, every single opportunity and circumstance and relationship, is just a living metaphor God gives us to better and more deeply understand His love.
When Luke (my sweet honorary nephew) was about a year old, I brought him a stuffed animal from NYC as a gift. It was this adorable, plush King Kong holding the Statue of Liberty, and I wrapped this oddly shaped bundle in layers and layers of tissue paper (one of the many great things about small children is they have zero judgment about your gift wrapping abilities) and presented it to him.
When I handed the gift over to Luke, he tore off the center strip of tissue and the gorilla’s face erupted out of the wrapping paper – Luke gave a shriek of surprise then burst into delighted laughter. It was contagious, and all of the adults in the room burst out laughing at his reaction.
In that moment I remember thinking that all I wanted to do was empty my bank account and buy Luke every stuffed gorilla on the planet – his delight in the gift was so pure, so full of unrestrained joy, that all I wanted was to bring more of that into his life – because it would bring more joy into my life – because I love him dearly.
A verse I have loved for a long time – and that took on special meaning for me after losing my dad – is in in Matthew 7, and it says:
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
In that moment, watching Luke’s sweet delighted face as he received his gift I got that verse in a way I never had before. The feeling I had watching Luke (and he’s not even my kiddo!) is about .00001% of the delight God has in watching me, in getting to witness me enjoy the good, good gifts He gives me.
I always learn best from examples, and I think God in His graciousness knows that and has filled my life with plenty of them. When I think now about what I want most in my life – what I would wave my magic wand to get if I could – they are really just more relationships and experiences that connect me to who God is, more living metaphors that allow me to get – in a deep and real place – His love and grace.