Seeing God Through His Metaphors

A friend once told me of a dark moment in his life, a time when he felt alone, frightened, and falling apart. He described his interior life like this: “I was an engine without oil.”

Seeing God in his metaphors r1

My friend instinctively took a common but abstract experience—loneliness—and brought it to life by painting a picture of his pain. He imagined his life as a movie screen and he projected onto himself the image of a motor thrashing about without lubrication.

In his four short words, “an engine without oil,” I saw a machine grinding to a halt as it ripped itself to pieces. I imagined hidden gears scrapping against rusted cogs, and friction, chaos, and destruction. I gasped as something inside me connected with his pain.

Metaphors speak to our hearts in ways detached concepts fail. If I say my wife is mad, we all have some cerebral sense of her state. If I say, “She’s a mother bear with her cubs,” we picture bloody teeth, razor claws, a ferocious growl, and an uncontrollable rage.

And we want to be somewhere else.

Misreading biblical metaphors

Metaphors borrow an experience from one sphere of life and project it onto another; a wife in suburbia is replaced with the picture of a mamma bear in the wilderness. Scripture uses boatloads of metaphors, but—unless we know how to navigate them—those ships never reach port. They are tossed about in the winds and waves of misunderstanding.

When reading biblical metaphors about God—like he is our father—we remember earthly pictures of fatherhood and project them onto the heavenly skies, and then think we understand God better. And perhaps we do, but only somewhat.

Only “somewhat” because we intuitively treat biblical metaphors as anthropomorphic; we take the human experience of fatherhood and project an image of our dads onto God.

But our notion of fatherhood is defective. Our fathers failed us. When we project our distorted picture of fatherhood onto God, we imagine him to be uncontrollably angry or too distracted to attend our soccer game. Anthropomorphic metaphors rob us of the power of God’s message.

Reading biblical metaphors

We instinctively sense that anthropomorphic metaphors—projecting human weakness upon God—will fail to bring us the inner joy God intends. That’s okay. Scripture teaches that its metaphors are theo-pomorphic. They are not us projecting our visible, imperfect reality onto God, but God projecting his unseen, perfect reality onto us.

Humanity didn’t create marriage and say, “Hey, maybe God is like that.” Instead, God created marriage to say to us, “Hey, this is who I am.” He is projecting his nature onto us. That’s why the Bible begins with a marriage of Adam and Eve and it ends with the marriage feast of the Lamb.

It means that love and marriage are not human creations; they are the nature of God imaged onto us. It means that God created human marriage as a reflection of his nature, and his nature now embraces an affection for us.

Seeing God in the Song of Solomon

For a day or two—a week is better—meditate on the following two verses from the Song of Solomon ( for help with scriptural mediation, read this article). Pray for God’s Spirit to help you see these metaphors as expressions of God’s heart for you:

You have captivated my heart, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes” (SOS 4:9):

  • Imagine for one moment that you can captivate God’s heart. Simply by looking at him.
  • It means he is ravished with us. He is dying—he literally died—to buy us back from the self-inflicted prison of adulterous idolatry (Hos. 2:14-3:5).

Or, “Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me” (SOS 6:5):

  • There are times a loved one—a child, spouse, or betrothed—looks at us, and inwardly we gasp. Our affection is so powerful we ache. We need to look away.
  • God declares that our eyes on him overpowers his heart; he too aches.

An old Arabian proverb declares: He is the best storyteller who can turn an ear into an eye.

Scripture overflows with stories and metaphors that turn God’s words into images of his nature. Let’s abandon our man-centered distortions of God and receive the vision that he himself paints when he calls us his masterpiece, friend, and (breathtakingly) his spouse.


P. S. Seven years ago, I took six months to meditate on the Song of Solomon. My License Plate r1I was so moved by those two verses above, I bought a new license plate for my car as a daily reminder.

But now that you know my license plate, I’ll have to be more careful when I’m tempted to cut you off on the freeway.

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What do YOU think?

4 thoughts on “Seeing God Through His Metaphors

  1. Hi Sam, I’ve wanted to ask you, just how do you have such insight? Now I know! God is using you brother in my life and I’m grateful to our Lord and King Jesus. Know that you are loved and prayed for from the the Southwest. God bless you brother!

    • Hi Russell,

      You embarrass me! But I thank you.

      I really believe that God wants to talk to everyone like a friend, conversationally, like a spouse. over the last several years, I have found such richness in “Hearing God” in scripture. There is a way he wants to sing his words to us, and I find it in meditation on his Word.

      I think God wants every believer to hear his voice so clearly that each of us could write a daily blog on what God is revealing.

      I’d love to hear what God is speaking to you. Sometimes it seems so simple we think, “Everyone knows this,” but we don’t!



      • I don’t mean to embarrass you, that’s probably why I didn’t ask the question in the first place and besides the Lord was going to bring the answer to me anyways. 🙂

        In April of this year, it was God speaking to me (after much wandering and living the prodigal life) that solidified my understanding of His deep love for me. Like you so accurately wrote about, I had been projecting my picture of a Father on Him from my understanding of my poor relationship with my Dad and Stepdad (rejection, Rejection, REJECTION) God not only spoke to me, but included me in His plan for another brother I respected very much.

        This transformed my life and changed me forever. Since then, we (My heavenly Father and me) hang out all the time. Lately we’re talking about Imitating Him (especially in my marriage) and being baptized (continually) in the Holy Spirit (being tuned it to My Helper for the power and direction for practically living today) a.k.a “The extra oil”.

        I know today’s article and two others “Hearing God in Meditation” and “Spiritual Lobotomy” (maybe you can link those) have just added a great arsenal of tools to my study and walk. It’s like when you talk to your Dad as a child you understand as a child, today I feel like I might have entered college and I’m excited to have some new study aids and greater insight into how one gets insight. God is answering prayer when he does these things. I know this because when I wanted to ask you, how you gained such insight, I asked our Father and he had you write about it. Pretty cool!!!

        Even more cool, is that we are literally brothers, blood brothers by His blood. I don’t mean to be flattering, I’m just admiring my big brother Sam and I want others to know it. Praise God and “our Father” above all.

        ttyl, your little bro Russ