Metaphors We Live By

I’m reading George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s Metaphors We Live By, and it’s really rocking my world. To sum up their book in one (terribly inadequate) sentence:

Metaphors are built into our language so deeply that they unconsciously guide – and even restrict – our thinking.

We don’t just write metaphors. We don’t just talk in metaphors. We think in metaphors.

Metaphors aren’t just for literature and poetry. Cultural metaphors go so deep

The Tower of Babel, Russian manuscript, 1539.

The Tower of Babel, Russian manuscript, 1539.

that we don’t even realize they’re there. We think we’re thinking about things “literally,” but our conceptual metaphors are built into the language. And they shape our thoughts without us even knowing it.

If we think “Time is Money,” (from chapter two) then it’s something we can budget, save, and invest. It’s something we must not waste. We’ve all heard and said those things, right?

But think of a culture that isn’t ruled by our industrial rhythms. To hunter-gatherers, time is what? I can barely imagine how someone who has no watch, no calendar, and no real concept of money, might conceptualize time.

Even the earliest hunter-gatherers had to have some concept of time: seasons change; day fades into night; babies grow up, grow old, and die.

But they might think of time as a circle, spinning from day to night to day to night again. They might consider their lives a part of that cycle (either through reincarnation or in other ways). Lacking money, they’d certainly not talk about spending or saving time.

So, what does this have to do with “Wrestling with the Angel?”

If our very thoughts are guided by our culture-specific conceptual metaphors, then so were our ancestors’… specifically our spiritual ancestors.

What were the conceptual metaphors of the writers of the Bible? Can we even really know?

They didn’t live in a post-industrial world. They didn’t struggle with “diseases of affluence.” They knew nothing of equal rights or democracy. And we certainly don’t live in – or understand – their world.

Is it enough to translate the Bible, if we don’t translate the underlying metaphors? Can even the best scholar actually understand the thought processes of a pre-industrial first century believer?

Can we trust the Bible?

Well, yes, but …

Yes, but … we must go beneath the surface. We can’t just read a passage (in translation) and say “God said it, I believe it, and that finished it.”

Yes, but … we can’t allow ourselves to get lazy. In Jesus’s time, Jews and Christians alike studied the scriptures, repeated them, prayed them, and knew the interpretation debates. Today, we’re used to instant answers and polarized parties. We want an ideological clan with all the answers more than we want muddy, messy, living truth.

Yes, but … we must approach scripture humbly, realizing we may be wrong, no matter how long we’ve believed something.

Yes, but … we must approach other people humbly, realizing we may be wrong.

Yes, we can trust the Bible, but … we should know better than to blindly, assuredly, trust ourselves.

Coming up on Christmas…

So much sadness, so much to do.

Building a nursery, welcoming a new life into this world

Saying goodbye to so many children I never knew

So much sadness, so many questions

Why?

Why did they have to die?

Why do I mourn them so?

Why do I mourn them so much more

Than the ones who die everyday,

Killed in my name by Predator Drones,

Weakened by hunger, claimed by disease,

Poisoned by foul water and dysentery?

Why?

And how do I move on, knowing it could be my daughter someday?

How do I wrap presents and decorate the tree?

How do I cook and eat and feast?

How do I put it all behind me and laugh and love and share?

Should I even want to?

Sometimes I wish I had a river I could skate away on…

Things I Don’t Understand, Death Before Adam Edition

Horned Viper by H Krisp Creative Commons

Horned Viper by H Krisp, Creative Commons

File it under “things I don’t understand” right next to complementarianism, but I just don’t get the idea that Young Earth Creationism is necessary to the Christian story of redemption.  Now, don’t get me wrong: I understand a belief in Young Earth Creationism.  It fits the “plain meaning” of Genesis 1 better than any other interpretation, even if it is out of step with current scientific understanding.  My point here isn’t to debate a young versus an old Earth (though I’ll probably get to that one in time), but to address this one puzzling concept.

For those who aren’t familiar with the idea, you can watch this video and also this one and see Ken Ham, a leading Young Earth Creationist, debate Dr. Walter Kaiser, a professor of Old Testament studies.  If you don’t want to watch forty minutes worth of videos, you can read this article, which explains the position, and, if you’d like, this article that both further illuminates the position and argues against it.

To sum it up:  Death is the consequence of sin [Romans 6:23, Romans 5:12].  If there was death before Adam’s sin, or if there was no literal Adam, then death is not really a consequence of sin, and there was no point in Jesus’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.

And that is what I don’t understand.  How can anyone who lives in this world question, for even one instant, the existence of sin?  America’s violent crime rate has been falling for 20 years, but we still have roughly 15,000 murders per year, and millions of violent crimes.  War rages across the world, between nations, cartels, and terrorist organizations.  Practically every government on the planet is corrupt to one degree or another (some legalize graft and call it “campaign finance reform,” but that doesn’t make them any less corrupt), and many still kill and torture to protect their “interests.”

Evil even permeates our daily lives.  Most of the chocolate we buy is produced by child labor, including widespread slave labor.  We so often treat the people around us horribly.  We turn away people in need.  We get so sure that we’re right that we trample on anyone who disagrees.  We lie, we gossip, we scheme, and we live so utterly, terribly selfishly.

How can anyone look out this window and wonder whether we need a savior?  We surely haven’t saved ourselves, not in five thousand years of recorded history, and not in all the long years before.  And there simply is no way that God’s power is limited by something Adam did or didn’t do.

That’s why I don’t understand the belief that “no death before Adam” is absolutely necessary for the effectiveness of Jesus’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.   It just seems like looking at things backward.  But maybe that’s just me.

Wrestling Angels

I’m writing this blog primarily about religious matters.  I’ve tried blogging about my faith a couple of times before, but I always fell away from it (the blogging, not the faith).  I think there were two problems:

First, I was trying to tell people what I think the “answers” are.  I don’t have answers.  Honestly, we don’t get many “answers” this side of Heaven, and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something.

Second, I wasn’t ever really, deeply honest.  I don’t think it is possible to be fully honest when giving out “answers,” because the truth is, whatever seems right now may seem wrongheaded and petty in a couple of years.  When your business is talking answers, you either lie,  constantly contradict yourself, or become so arrogant that you refuse to change your mind.  None of those is worth the bandwidth.

The only honest path is to admit to the questions, to embrace the questions, and to genuinely study the questions.  Doubt can be a kind of worship.  Doubt is a kind of humility.  Doubt is saying to God, “I don’t understand you, I know I can’t prove you, but I still choose to worship you.”

That’s why I’ve called this attempt “Wrestling with the Angel.”  The title comes from Genesis 32:24-28, when Jacob wrestled with an angel (or possibly a pre-incarnate Christ) throughout the night, refusing to let go until the angel blessed him, even though the angel tore his hip out of joint.

It was here that he lost the name Jacob, the deceiver who stole his brother’s birthright, and became Israel, the one who struggles with God.

And I think that is one of our duties as Christians: to struggle with God, to wrestle the angels, to dive headlong into our doubts and fears.  To hold on until He blesses us, and gives us a new name.