from TCITB Chapter 6
"Israel, My Child": The Ethics of a Biblical Metaphor
Brent A. Strawn
I want to be careful that I don't say so much that it keeps you from reading the book but also give you something to think about. So let's try this chapter again. What I feared would be a very boring chapter was, in fact, very rich indeed.
This chapter falls at the end of the chapters discussing the OT and before the chapters discussing the NT. Mr. Strawn focuses on the parent-child metaphor- "God as a divine parent. . . with human offspring..." (TCITB p. 103) He tells us that much of what we understand of scripture we understand through the lens of the parent-child relationship. (TCITB, p. 117)
1) "explicitly, the metaphor shaped how Israel represented and understood God's actions toward itself and its actions toward God. . ." (TCITB p. 105)
2) "implicitly, the metaphor affected how Israelite parents may have (and ought to have) treated their own children, providing them a divine example to emulate at their (and it's) best moments . . ." (TCITB p. 105)
3) He asks "Does the portrayal of God as our parent make any difference when we consider our own relationship with our children? Once we have children of our own, do we parent differently and better if we believe that God is a parent both to us and to others?" (TCITB p. 105)
He says that despite the parts of the parent-child metaphor that we may find harsh, (TCITB p. 107) "What is crucial . . . is that we remember, despite the power of the God-as-father/mother/parent metaphor, that we are dealing with a metaphor: God, even in biblical construction, is beyond gender." (TCITB p. 108) Strawn tells us that metaphors help us see similarities and differences.
If I understand him correctly, when he discusses the ethics of metaphor he is affirming that non-literal, artistic forms engage us at many levels and they are more powerful than the literal. "Some [metaphors] are more powerful than others." He says this requires caution and care on the part of artist or writer but it also opens doors and windows to viewer/listener. (TCITB p. 109-110) These are pictures. From my perspective, even if two metaphors or pictures in scripture seem to contradict one another, somehow both are "true" because these are God's metaphors. He is revealing Himself to us but we are human and He is God. On one hand you can only carry metaphors so far. On the other hand, devices like metaphors and figurative language leave more room for us to grasp concepts that are greater than our literal understanding.
Part of the strength of the parent-child metaphor isn't only it's role in ancient Hebrew society but the fact that the concept of "family" is a universal. He talks about Exodus and God the Father's passionate protection and deliverance of His first-born son, Israel (TCITB, 113-117) and negative effects of the metaphor on our perception of God and Israel. (TCITB p. 118-128) I especially loved his attention to the sides of God as father that we tend to de-emphasize. (TCITB p. 1181-126) reminding us that God parents very challenging children.
Mr. Strawn reminds us that Israel is the one who has recorded these observations and experiences with God. "The fact that it is the child, Israel, who presents and preserves these God-depictions says much about Israel itself. This is, after all, how Israel perceived and represented its LORD." (TCITB p. 126) The author explores Israel's perception of itself. His comment about God and Israel's interdependence is thought-provoking. (TCITB p. 128)
". . . a closer look at the 'father' texts demonstrates that several of them employ language that is an amalgam of mother and father imagery [he give examples] -underscoring by means of the mixed-metaphorical construction that God is neither mother nor father, male nor female, or at least neither of these exclusively. These are, and remain, metaphors." (TCITB p. 129) Knowing God has such a profound understanding of both mothering and fathering is awesome to me.
In the last part Strawn discusses the "Ethics of the Divine Parent-Human Child Metaphor". He differentiates between the ethics of metaphor then and now. He asks more questions. (TCITB p 132-3) At the heart of it he asks, can it, [the parent-child metaphor] does it, help us parent better?" (TCITB p. 134-5) discussing it in more depth.
Pondering the parent-child metaphor caused him to reflect on the way children in ancient times carried on the work, mission, and purpose of a father over the course of many generations - more thinking that isn't given much attention. His mention of Steven A Rogers' discussion of the maturation of the parent-child relationship as reflected in Genesis, is facinating. (TCITB p. 138)
He reminds us that the scriptures tell us there is potential for growth and conflict, resolution and reconciliation in the parent-child metaphor (TCITB p. 140). Despite the negatives, we've been given the best of God's divine image to emulate.
His detailed discussions of all these elements is worth reading. Nine chapters to go!