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“Sokath! His eyes uncovered!”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E99L1bShOr0

I study metaphor. All language is metaphoric, you know. The map is not the territory, right? The word is not the thing. Some “maps” are productive because they efficiently lead you to your destination without a lot of baggage and detours. Others are lousy.

Metaphors, like maps, select, reflect, and deflect reality. They build our drama of life. Our story. Our metanarrative. The evangelical buzz word for that is “worldview” or Weltanschauung, but that word is generally too passive for the morés of most rhetoricians. We like to criticize even the metaphor for our metaphors. 😉

So as God continued to teach me about how much He loved me, after I had heard a contradictory sermon on grace and another eisegetic sermon of the Christian life, I turned to the tools I knew best to understand it all. I turned to rhetorical criticism. I looked at metaphor.

So. Put on your rhetorical critic’s hat for a second, and look at this collection of metaphors from Jim Berg’s Changed Into His Image and Created for His Glory. What’s the story here?

There can be little doubt that God sees our independent spirit–the very thing that the world considers a virtue–as the root problem of man. Our heart says, ‘I will make life work my own way!’ It raises a clenched fist toward the heavens and asserts, ‘I will do it my way!’ . . . Here then is the defiance of our flesh. . . . This fleshly nature is perpetually at war with God. It will not be subject. It will not be ruled. It is no wonder, then, that when we begin to submit to the Spirit of God as He works in our lives that our flesh rises up and resists that work of God. We possess within us a clone of Satan’s own nature, and it violently opposes God (Changed Into His Image 36).

Personal separation from those elements of the believer’s environment that feed his flesh is not option; it is critical! The more corrupt our culture becomes, the greater the need for personal separation from the world. Personal separation from the world does not mean isolating ourselves from the world but rather insulating ourselves from its toxic, fleshly effect upon our souls. Let me illustrate it this way.

Today physicians and health-care professionals are more careful about protecting themselves from the AIDS virus because the possibility of exposure to it in their line of work has increased enormously. As a result, they do not reuse needles, and they wear surgical gloves and sometimes masks. They are extremely careful about contact with bodily fluids. They are not less careful because “we live in a modern age.” They are more careful because we live in a “corrupted age.” In the same way, believers who are concerned about their spiritual health will be more careful in this increasingly corrupt culture. There are more dangers to their souls–not fewer. The pagan, sensual, materialistic environment around them is more contaminated with ungodliness. The need for circumspect living is greater today–not less.

When you seem to be susceptible to every fleshly ‘bug’ in the atmosphere, it is probably because your spiritual immune system isn’t functioning. You have been “quenching the Spirit” by indulging the flesh. You can never get “well” until you stop your contact with contaminating elements around you. That may mean your entertainment habits (movies, music, magazines, recreational habits, etc.) or personal friendships must change . Whatever is dragging you down must be ‘put off.’ In addition, your immune system must be built up. Our Lord is serious about our avoidance of fleshly indulgence (Changed Into His Image 103-04).

The best strategy for any cancer treatment is early detection and treatment. The same is true of the soul. Early detection of the flesh’s activity and early treatment are the surest remedy (Changed Into His Image 108).

When I think of my position as a servant of God, I think of how my service is so primitive when compared to His own capabilities. I can ‘fetch his paper,’ but I get saliva on the rolled-up newsprint and may even tear a portion of a page with my fangs in the process. When I come into the house, I track mud on His carpet before I know what I’m doing. Yet He still says, ‘well done, thou good and faithful servant.’ That amazes me! Somehow my eagerness to obey Him and my attempt to do His bidding to the best of my ‘canine’ ability is pleasing to Him, though my efforts are so flawed. When I think of these things, I can only look up at His face and say to Him, ‘What a wonderful Master You are! No one compares to You. I’m so delighted to be Your pet.’ When He hears that eager praise from me, He is particularly delighted because I see Him as He really is–first of all! in this small way, I glorify Him by finding my greatest delight in Him. . . . It is in this way that we were created for His glory. We can glorify Him as one of His ‘pets’–beings created for His pleasure–as we acknowledge and enjoy His ‘firstness’ (Created for His Glory 34-35).

Now, collect all those together. The redeemed are inhabited both by Satan’s clone and God’s Spirit, and these bitter enemies are at war inside us. “The world” joins the battle and attacks us with a sort of biochemical warfare where even casual and unprotected contact puts us at risk. Spiritual “surgical gloves” are necessary to protect our spiritual lives. Adding to the crisis, even in childhood the flesh/sin is a cancer eating away at our souls so that we need spiritual chemotherapy very early if God will use us at all. And if all goes well–if the clone gets resisted, the gloves are regularly used, and the chemotherapy works–ideally, we’ll become God’s submissive pet.

Now, in contrast, look at Paul’s metaphors:

God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

No ifs, ands, or buts. No “if you do this, then you get God’s grace.” The battle was over at the cross, and we’re just cleaning up the damage now. We’re through and through God’s children, not His pets! He doesn’t withhold His love waiting for us to act like we should. No father would! He loves us first just because He’s chosen to.

When I’ve talked with fundamentalists about Berg’s metaphors, every one of them has disagreed with them. Even Jim Berg himself has dismissed the “clone” metaphor to me as just “literary flourish.” The general consensus among his readers is, “Well, he goes too far.” And that’s fair enough. But that is the problem. That is the definition of a “Hedge around the Torah”–another metaphor used to describe the Pharisees’ fear of breaking the law and adding a protective “hedge” or barrier around it. And in constructing the “hedge” they were obscuring the fulfillment of the Torah–Christ.

I’m not questioning anyone’s sincerity or earnestness or salvation. But these metaphors are mistaken–gravely mistaken.

And I had to say something.

“Sokath! His eyes uncovered!”

12 thoughts on ““Sokath! His eyes uncovered!”

  • July 19, 2008 at 2:18 am
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    In my snarky way I feel compelled to point out that the sickness metaphor breaks down when we remember that contracting some illnesses builds our immunities. Dealing with minor illnesses (colds and such) makes me stronger.

    Maybe I should go find some “minor sins” to dabble in? 🙂

  • July 19, 2008 at 7:16 am
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    It’s interesting that you should mention that. . . . Awhile back an email forward was making the circuit. Maybe you read it?

    A father wanted to convince his kids to keep their lives pure. So one evening he presented them with a plate full of brownies. After the kids had finished their first helping, the dad said, “Glad you enjoyed them. I added something special to these brownies — dog poop.”

    While the kids are wretching and gagging, the dad says, “What? It was just a little bit of poop!! What’s the big deal??” Kids moan and groan and yell and scream. Dad concludes, “Sin is like dog poop!! A little bit of sin in your life is like a little bit of dog poop in your life!!!”

    I. despised. that. email. forward. You can still find it online even. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t ever figure out why. Now I know. . . .

    There’s always poop in your brownies. Seriously! There are always germs, bacteria, and yuck in everything you eat. Nothing’s ever pristine.

    THAT’S WHY GOD GAVE US IMMUNE SYSTEMS!!

    It’s a revealing representative anecdote that points to the theological perfectionism that lurks in fundamentalism. Exactly what you’re talking about.

    Tsk-tsk.

  • July 19, 2008 at 5:42 pm
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    In the grand cycle of life, it turns out that even some of the molecules of which our taste buds are comprised were maybe once dinosaur dookey. Hmmmmm…

    Sharpen your sword and take a whack at the “God CAN’T do ____ unless you do _____.” or “God NEEDS you to ____ so He can bless you.” or “Your behavior is keeping others from coming to Christ.” There’s a hundred and one things that get said from moralistic pulpits that marginalize God and render Him more or less impotent in the face of man’s uncooperative will. If that’s their definition of God, then who needs Him? “To the praise of His glory” (3X in Eph 1 referring to the work of redemption) speaks to the inherent power of the Gospel to substantially change people, not merely to empower people to change their externals.

    How does the two-natures theology jive with II Cor 5:17? Live spirit in dead flesh maybe, but not partially live and partially dead spirit at the same time. The frustration of Paul with his flesh in Romans 7 is resolved in Christ, not in moral imperatives!

  • July 20, 2008 at 4:25 pm
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    You provided an excellent example of metaphor with the Star Trek reference. Actually, the world of Star Trek is a rich source of illustrative material. Just last week, I heard a message entitled “Freedom in Christ” in which the pastor used Seven of Nine leaving the Borg collective as the central illustration.

  • July 20, 2008 at 7:20 pm
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    “There’s always poop in your brownies. Seriously! There are always germs, bacteria, and yuck in everything you eat. Nothing’s ever pristine.

    THAT’S WHY GOD GAVE US IMMUNE SYSTEMS!!

    It’s a revealing representative anecdote that points to the theological perfectionism that lurks in fundamentalism. Exactly what you’re talking about.”

    Indeed there IS always imperfection (poop) in everything after the fall. This is why inspired scripture is the ONLY perfect writing after tha fall. Every one else has to write “sans inspiration”. It takes a God’s grace to live among the actions and words of other Christians, because we know that none of us will ever write the perfect metaphor, the perfect book, preach the perfect sermon. This is where love can cover a multitude of sins (or cover metaphors we don’t agree with, for all uninspired metaphors break down eventually…we know that).

    Might this be why Timothy warned against “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people…” (I Timothy 6:4b-5a)?

    “Nothing’s ever pristine” so we love people anyway.

  • July 20, 2008 at 7:29 pm
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    because we know that none of us will ever write the perfect metaphor, the perfect book, preach the perfect sermon. This is where love can cover a multitude of sins (or cover metaphors we don’t agree with, for all uninspired metaphors break down eventually…we know that).

    This might be taken too far, as well, Amy. As I’ve said before, error is error. And it’s the most loving thing possible to point out that error in the spirit of building up the Body.

    Might this be why Timothy warned against “an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people…” (I Timothy 6:4b-5a)?

    Well, first of all, that was Paul to Timothy, but no matter. . . . The larger paragraph you’re referencing here is significant and seems to contradict your other point. Paul doesn’t say, “Overlook your differences with false teachers.” He says to beware of false teachers because FALSE TEACHING stirs up “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people.” And with that I completely agree. I’ve seen it first hand.

    “Nothing’s ever pristine” so we love people anyway.

    No, nothing’s ever pristine so we trust Christ more boldly than ever before. Different. Very different.

  • July 20, 2008 at 9:15 pm
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    Paul to Timothy. My blunder.

    You are correct. Error is error. But a so-called “lousy” metaphor is different than “preaching a different gospel.” Very different.

    “‘He says to beware of false teachers because FALSE TEACHING stirs up “envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people.'”

    I agree with you there. Paul is painting a picture of false teachers. Craving for controversy and quarrels about words, etc. ARE characteristics of false teachers. In verse 11 Paul tells Timothy to “flee these things,” these characteristics of false teachers which include craving controversy, quarrels over words, envy, dissention, slander, etc. Timothy is NOT to behave in the same way as they. THAT was my point. I don’t think it’s going to far to apply a warning meant for Timothy to our own lives.

    You are right, we must “trust Christ more boldly than ever.” We must also love in the mean time. Love and pray.

  • July 20, 2008 at 9:22 pm
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    As I explained in this post, Amy, metaphor is my way of analyzing something. It’s the tool that I’ve been trained to use. The poor teaching is plainly demonstrated quite clearly in the two earlier posts called “How to Get God’s Grace” and “Measuring Kingdom Usefulness.”

    I completely and totally agree that problematic and contrary-to-Scripture metaphors are things to be corrected. Which is why, as my post will demonstrate tomorrow, I took corrective and appropriate action.

    You’re incorrect that Paul is saying that causing contention proves false teaching. He’s saying that teaching a different doctrine proves false teaching. Correlation does not imply causality.

  • August 6, 2008 at 1:37 am
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    Dr. Bob Jr., on the chapel platform.

  • April 10, 2011 at 9:24 pm
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    “Clone of Satan’s own nature”???
    What in the world?? Last time I read my Bible it said God created man in HIS own image…

    ~a new “lurker” 😉

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