This week I’ve been writing a review of Flora Keshgegian’s God Reflected: Metaphors for Life. It’s an accessible survey of seven metaphors or images for God, from king to parent to divine energy. Each image is grounded in biblical examples, and its strengths and limitations are described (along with the kinds of prayer each image invites). Keshgegian is especially interested in what depiction of divine power is implied by each image–how each image depicts God as acting in the world.
I wonder how others relate to the frequent depiction of God as a king, as a celestial male seated on a throne. (Tonight I was reading Daniel 7–where God’s throne is on fire and has wheels.) This sort of image of God would never be generated in the context of contemporary American culture–yet hymns and gospel songs continue to be written using the imagery of a divine king. I wonder if the image of king in fact seems more appropriate for God these days for many, precisely because it doesn’t suit our notions of human power very well anymore.
But even within the biblical landscape, of course–and especially at Christmastime–we have all those wonderful collisions of the image of “king” with the image of a vulnerable infant, who is oddly nobody and somebody all at the same time. And grown up, that child will continue to defy the image of what it traditionally has meant to be a king. When we pray with the Psalms alone, we have to bring to bear all these gospel meanings of king if we are to relate the turned-upside-down notions of a king to those psalmic images for God.
We might also spend a lot more time reading Proverbs 8, where Divine Wisdom (incarnate in Jesus) is depicted as a bossy woman who co-created the world with God and who is now speaking throughout the Proverbs, standing on a rooftop instructing men in the best ways to live (men who are likely drawn to imagine wisdom as female to foster the idea that living wisely is alluring and beautiful). There was a movement among men in the 14th century to worship Christ as a goddess, precisely because of the connection between Christ and the female wisdom figure of Proverbs 8.
It is very good that the image of God as a king gets jammed with this image of divine wisdom as a bossy woman–and that both of these images get jammed still further with the image of Jesus as a baby and a crucified criminal. But we need more hymns that draw out the female imagery for the divine that is already circulating in the Bible, but rarely uttered aloud in our shared spaces of worship. Otherwise, we freeze the image of God into one form, and are tempted to idolize a male image of God.
Who is on the throne? And what is s/he like, in our addresses in prayer? In our being addressed by the Spirit in prayer?