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.