Minding Our Metaphors

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Not long ago I was studying an issue of biblical theology, and in my reading I came across a fascinating discussion of metaphors. The author claimed, rightly, that we can learn a lot about how we view an issue and its potential outcome — be it an issue in the home, in the church, in society at large — by examining the metaphors that we use to describe that issue.

Let’s say we are examining an issue in which there are deep differences of opinion.  Many people talk about “winning the argument,” “getting the better of an opponent,” “shooting down someone else’s argument,” and “getting the upper hand.” These are all metaphors of fighting, of war, which suggests that we consider ourselves in a battle.

Or we can talk about “trying to negotiate our differences,” “talking until we reach an agreement,” “listening to the other side,” and “reaching an reasonable settlement.” These are all metaphors of the negotiating table, of seeking for a peaceful resolution to the issue at hand by getting on same page (that’s an editorial metaphor!).

We all know how our national government is speaking right now: “destroying Obamacare,” “using the nuclear option,” “crushing the other party,” and “hitting them in the pocketbook.” Our government, at least at the present time, believes the best way to govern this country is fighting until there are winners and losers and making sure your side comes out on top. Personally, I don’t think that is any way to run a country, but the metaphors speak for themselves. That is how our elected leaders see their job.

What about the church? All too often when conflict develops, we start thinking in these same categories of war. A “strong” pastor or leadership team will “stand their ground for the Lord,” whereas a “weak” one will “meekly give in to the other side.” Somehow, we need to start changing the metaphors we use and even think about. After all, our Savior sacrificed himself so that everyone could be part of his family and grow as his children. When he was reviled and abused, he remained silent and did not revile back. “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:23). And then the follow-up verse: “You ‘were like sheep going astray,’ but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (2:25). Powerful metaphors.

What metaphors do you use in a time of conflict — in the home, the church, or society at large? Are the metaphors you use ones that Christ would approve of?

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I peter 2: 19 For this finds [u]favor, if for the sake of conscience toward God a person bears up under sorrows when suffering unjustly. 20 For what credit is there if, when you sin and are harshly treated, you endure it with patience? But if when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds [v]favor with God.

Doing this would reduce a lot of conflict.