Today, we witness the end of a faith that "simply
thinks," that forms from mere passive assent, that fades day by day
with the dying gasps of the unempowered. Instead, we are learning to
participate in the language of prophetic metaphor. We are learning
how to "do" metaphor.
Here are the highlights:
Metaphors . . .
. . . require a conscious lifestyle of serious
make-believe. They demand new ways of thinking and new spiritual
. . . are inspired dialogue. They are
bidirectional—give and take, to-and-fro movements between "here" and
"there." They are never-ending, always deepening cycles—started by
God and completed by God with the us in the middle.
. . . "do" something; and in that "doing," we
"do" something too. In metaphor—as in faith—we give form to the
"substance," "evidence" and "proof" of things we do not see. In the
same way, metaphor is the prototype of all creativity.
. . . are not an invention of natural skill nor
an expression of subjectivity. Neither do they suffer the mediation
of man’s doctrines.
. . . do not limit themselves to "special
occasions"or time-appointed moments. Instead, they move in
everything we do.
. . . project a world. They describe what is
coming to be. Unlike our modern words which merely "supervene" in
life—that is, they only "add to" life—metaphors "intervene" in
life—they "change life."
. . . provide the truth to "end times." Metaphors
represent our participation in the "end times"—the doing of "end
times," anticipating and giving form to a future, real world that
God is bringing to pass.
. . . will prove our only advantage in a future
world run by computer intelligence. For Power incarnates Power.
For more, continue reading:
What Do We Do?
If metaphor is the language of the future, how do
we take part in that language? Beyond all the poetry, what specific
duties do we declare? Beyond all the idealism, what skills do we
And, how do we develop the practice of metaphor
when schools insist we put theory before practice? After all,
seminaries make rational knowledge the main "power." They make a
literal world the main "reality." And, they make the lecture hall
the main "Word." As a result, we analyze, classify, examine, and
question, but have few skills in "calling those things that be not
as though they were."1
Thus, unskilled in metaphor, our worldly and
otherworldly actions meet only by accident.
Of course, godly metaphor finds a place in any
willing vessel, but pure vision prefers a pure heart. So, before
seeking the skills of metaphor, we must move the selfish "self" out
of the way. We must "die" to the self. Ordinary, everyday lives must
become sacrificial offerings.
As Paul reminded, we must "die daily."2
Only then will the rivers of revelation flow
unrestricted and fulsome. Only then will our voice become the "Word
made flesh." Only then will our love "speak" with passion and
Indeed, revelation—without love—counts for
Actually, anyone could say they’re skilled in
metaphor. Metaphor, after all, permeates all of life. There’s a vast
difference, though, between metaphors that saturate unthinking lives
and metaphors that emerge from conscious lifestyles. Aristotle
correctly observed, "The greatest thing by far is to be a master of
Today’s mastery, however, requires a new way of
thinking. It contemplates the unknown more than the known, the awe
more than the ordinary, the mystery more than the mundane. It
watches the intuition more than the intellect, the content more than
the form, the message more than the medium. It feels the ecstasy
more than the discipline, the compelling more than the control, the
artistry more than the technique.
This way of thinking is like seeing our self see.
We stand to one side and reflect on something totally outside our
self. We stand present to this world, yet not at home in it.
Half-seeing, half-blind, we follow things probably as precise as
math, yet as elusive as spirit.
And, as in a hall of mirrors, we see one thing
but notice many things. We see a collage of incongruous images but
feel at home with their paradox.
If all this "mastery" seems too much for the
novice, we can at least begin with alert expectancy. We can watch
for something to catch fire. We can listen for the "aha" moment. We
can see the familiar turning strange, or capture the ordinary fusing
Without doubt, today’s mastery of metaphor
requires a different way of thinking.
You cannot study Pleasure in the moment
of nuptial embrace, nor repentance while repenting, nor
analyze the nature of humor while roaring with laughter.4
The mastery of metaphor requires inspiration as
well. The creating of metaphor, for example, requires a quickening,
"born suddenly in the soul, like a light . . . fired by a leaping
spark."5 Even making sense of metaphor requires an
intuitive sensitivity seen primarily by the "eyes" of our hearts.
In other words, something must speak to the
hidden prophet within.
We’re talking, of course, about the many ways the
human spirit flows from the Holy Spirit—how God’s Spirit in man
responds to God’s Spirit in God—how the mind of God permeates the
mind of man. We could call it the momentary merger of the finite
with the Infinite. We could call it the creaturely experience of
receiving from the "Other." Or, we could simply call it a spiritual
This gift is no abstract mysticism or remote
transcendence. Neither is it a vague omnipresence. It is, instead, a
manifest presence, an immanent Spirit, an indwelling reality—from a
God who dwells both without and within!
Modern minds, of course, demand less "religious"
examples. And creativity satisfies that demand, for inspiration is
the vital breath of creativity, the only source of original
imagination. When Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, for example, "I could
not control the story; it wrote itself," she spoke for all artists
who know an "Otherness" in their art.
The poet and the prophet, in other words, share a
"The Lord said to me," Jeremiah reported,
"Behold, I have put My words in your mouth."6 Later,
Peter reported being "moved and impelled" by the same Spirit.7
And, in truth, Jesus built His church on these "inspired" visions.8
We must take care though. Such inspiration is not
invented by, or pulled out of, natural skills. It is not something
"figured out." Nor does it suffer the mediation of man’s doctrines.
"‘Originality,’ after all, is the prerogative of God alone."9
So, moment by moment, we move with trust in this
manifest presence. We intentionally respond to its "otherness." In
our wild patience, we explore the bounds of its wisdom and grace.
"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings
is to search out a thing."10
This inspiration, this divine quickening, has yet
to be explored in our time. So we must move quickly. As computer
intelligence increases, the leading of the Holy Spirit will be the
only advantage we will have.
. . . not written with (digital code) but
with the Spirit of the living God . . . on tablets of human
Whenever and Wherever
Inspired metaphor, though, does not limit itself
to "special occasions," time-appointed moments, or "the talented."
Nothing is trivial. Nothing is insignificant. Nobody is
The conviction that anything, anyone, anywhere,
and anytime can be filled with prophetic power is one of the lost
ideas of early Christianity. Then and now, everything "points."
Metaphor, in other words, floods all of life.
Moments not considered works of art are, themselves, works of
art—often hidden, but there nevertheless. All things point
potentially to vignettes of visitations, sacramental realities,
"Words made flesh." Though their purpose and timing escape our
understanding, "The wind of the Spirit blows where it wills."12
As Jacob confessed, "Surely the Lord is in this
place, and I did not know it."13
The mastery of metaphor, then, allows the
incarnation of metaphor, whenever and wherever the "wind of the
Spirit" decides. Contrary to the priorities of our time, we are
called to extract the precious from the worthless, to make all
"If you extract the precious from the worthless,
you will become My spokesman."14
Caught in the Middle
So among many of life’s quiet excitements, we can
watch something making us the author of something beautiful. Or, if
that something is an already existing metaphor, we can simply let it
be, let it surprise us, let it guide us.
Over and over. Deeper and deeper.
Thus, metaphor is a dialogue. It is
bidirectional. "When we act from . . . God in ourselves—we are
collaborators."15 Of course, we give back only what comes
from Him in the first place. Still, metaphor is a give and take,
to-and-fro movement between one place and another. As in a game, we
"put something into play."
In the words of Scripture, we are both "in
Christ" and "He in us."16 Paul also puts it this way: "We
stand in Christ’s presence when we speak; God looks us in the face.
We get what we say straight from God and say it as honestly as we
Once more, the creative process provides our
example: Artists "discover" things they admit already existed before
being discovered. Then, they "collaborate"—they give inspired form
to these things. Finally, they receive inspired understandings of
their collaboration and collaborate, again.
Their journey is a never-ending, always deepening
cycle—started by God and completed by God with the artist in the
To lose ourselves in the performance of
an obligation which we accept, in spite of its appearing on
reflection impossible of achievement . . . (is) a clue to
We find the same journey in Hebrew meditation—a
whirling, revolving reflection with multilayered meanings. With
always deepening significance, the Hebrew faithful contemplated
things of the spirit and expressed the resulting visions in a
dialogue with God. Their prophets often gave form to these sensory
images and feelings, then shared them with others.
Today’s religious leaders have spoken eloquently
"about" God and "to" God. Now it’s time to let God speak too!
In this dialogue, metaphor "does" something. It
compels either its own creation or the creative understanding of its
creation. It doesn’t just lie there, lounging passively in our
imagination. It doesn’t just lurk in the dormant regions of our
Its "doing," though, means we "do" something too.
Metaphor, after all, involves the volition of our imagination, the
will of our spirit. In metaphor, something gets expressed, feelings
are given form, the anointing gets announced. It is an activity on
behalf of others. Yes, we contemplate its mystery, but we also
express its mystery. Yes, we stand awed by its depth, but we also
give form to its depth.
We follow in the prophetic line of Ezekiel, who
said, "The Lord came to me, saying . . . utter a parable."19
So in the raw reality of creativity and spontaneity, we orchestrate
our intuition, we forge our feelings. Then, more dance than drill,
we display our "controlled exaggeration."
It’s no surprise that the "doing" of metaphor has
always been the prototype of all creativity–"the kernel of creative
thought"—the very "poetics of the will."20, 21, 22 For,
in the words of Shakespeare, it "bodies forth the forms of things
In truth, creativity—as it "bodies forth"
spiritual reality—miraculously continues the Incarnation. For its
sacramental truth manifests God’s Presence in the "real" world.
After all, "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us," and that
fact forever affirms that spiritual realities can be known through
So, we are "both called and empowered to be
extensions of the Incarnation."25 We were created to
create, in other words. We make "new things," not only because we
want to, but because we were intended to.
Consider faith itself! It is both passive and
active. It combines, for example, both believing and speaking.26
It never remains totally passive nor neglectedly unspoken. For in
faith—as in metaphor—we speak or give form to the "substance,"
"evidence" and "proof" of things we do not see.27 In
fact, that’s the very definition of faith. And it’s the reason, in
Hebraic culture, "‘Truth’ is created by speaking it."28
So metaphor, like faith, becomes a lifestyle—a
life of serious make-believe. Masters of metaphor live their lives,
for example, like those spear fishermen who throw their spears in
places different from the fish, knowing that the original image
refracts in the water. And they do it daily—without wavering and
Yes, the forms we bring to metaphor are personal.
They carry our style, our skill, and our unique view of the whole.
Even so, we point only out of the power to which we point. And—like
both prophet and listener, guide and visitor—we discover and witness
Bringing Far Things Near
Today, we witness the end of a faith that "simply
thinks," that forms from mere passive assent, that fades day by day
with the dying gasps of the unempowered. In its place, a new faith
moves with powerful and determined expectation. It acts with the
perfect knowledge that absent things are present.
It projects a world.
"Phenomena to support that new (world) will
obediently turn up," said C. S. Lewis, and "I do not at all mean
that these new phenomena are illusory."29 In total
accord, Albert Einstein said, "It is the theory that decides what
can be observed."30 And today, great minds agree: "It is
the metaphor that decides future reality."31
Metaphor happens in this world, yet causes
happenings in another world. It transgresses a present reality, yet
pursues an evolving reality. It deconstructs an old world, yet
constructs a new world.
In other words, prophetic metaphor reflects more
than a poetic world, it frames a world. It’s more than a creation,
it is a creating. It doesn’t simply happen "in" history, it "is"
history. It doesn’t simply "predict" the future, it fathers the
We’ve glimpsed some of this in the arts. After
all, a true work of art is the creation of something new. At the
most profound level, however, art creates a new world. As a result,
artists dwell in a not-yet realm, receiving and sharing from the
future what is not yet. They are transported both by future and into
They bring far things near.
A Coming Kingdom
Why have we refused this world-making "outside"
the arts? The fathers of our faith would want to know. From the
beginning, Scripture describes the limitless, godlike power of
"Words." Prophetic metaphor, in fact, pervades the entire Bible.
And, it doesn’t describe what "is," it describes what is "coming to
God, after all, wills a future reality, not a
So, again, metaphor—like faith—is "the substance
of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen."33
It slips into the future, captures its intended purpose, and brings
it back. It fulfills its own prophecy, manifests its own meaning. It
becomes the reality we proclaim even as we proclaim it. It becomes
the world we announce even as we announce it.
No wonder Hebrew "words" went forth and did
things. Unlike today’s words which merely "supervene" in life—that
is, they only "add to" life—Hebrew "words" "intervened" in life—they
actually "changed life." And their "words" were confirmed "with
Today, the study of these "signs," or the study
of "end times," has become a popular pastime where our fears and
hopes struggle for supremacy. The "end time" metaphors of Scripture,
however, represent a message of hope, pulling us toward God’s
future. It is the actual universe as it one day will be, far more
real than the present world which, even now, is "passing away."34
So the truth of "end times" is our participation
in them—the doing of them! To that end, we see all reality as a
future, real world that God is bringing into being. In the midst of
our present existence, we anticipate the future. We dream and give
form to a coming kingdom.
The future is already here whether we give it
form or not. Like Michelangelo freeing his statues from stone, we
simply give form to what is already there. In other words, the
metaphor in our desire is already in our desire.
So with agility, openness and humble inadequacy
we boldly risk intimacy with a godly "Otherness" . . .
. . . knowing that Power incarnates power.
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Romans 4:17, KJ.
2. I Corinthians 15:31, AMP.
3. Aristotle, in his Poetics, quoted in
4. C.S. Lewis quote in Leanne Payne, Real
Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 133.
5. Socrates, quoted in Raoul Morley, From Word
to Silence, Vol. 1, The Rise and Fall of Logos (Bonn: Hanstein,
1986), p. 95.
6. Jeremiah 1:9-10, AMP.
7. Second Peter 1:21, AMP.
8. A careful reading of the original Greek in
Matthew 16:15-18 reveals Jesus founded His church on spiritual
9. Leanne Payne, Real Presence (Grand
Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 80.
10. Prov 25:2, AMP.
11. II Corinthians 3:3, AMP (my
12. John 3:8, (my paraphrase).
13. Genesis 28:16, AMP.
14. Jeremiah 15:19, NAS.
15. Madeleine L’Engle, quoted in Leanne Payne,
Real Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 129.
16. Galatians 2:20.
17. II Corinthians 2:17, The Message Bible.
18. Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge:
Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy (Chicago: The University of
Chicago Press, 1958) p. 324.
19. Ezekiel 24:1-3, AMP.
20. Lewis Edwin Hahn, Editor, The Philosophy
of Paul Ricoeur (Chicago: Open Court, 1995) p. 267.
21. Paul Ricoeur, quoted in Jay A. Seitz, "The
Development of Metaphoric Understanding: Implications for a Theory
of Creativity," Creativity Research Journal 1997, Vol. 10,
No. 4, 347-353.
22. Hahn, p. 215.
24. John 1:14, KJ.
25. C. S. Lewis, quoted in Leanne Payne, Real
Presence (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000) p. 143, 144.
26. Matthew 17:20 (and similar passages). Also,
The Message Bible describes the "seamless unity of believing
and doing" in James 2:16-3:1.
27. Hebrew 11:1.
28. Richard C. Leonard, "The Literary Arts"
The Biblical Foundations of Christian Worship, Robert E. Webber,
Editor, (Nashville: Star Song Publishing Group, 1993) p. 224.
29. C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image
(Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1964) p. 221.
Charles Daney, "Open Questions: Quotations Relevant to Science,"
31. Paul Ricoeur, Carl Hausman, Murray Krieger,
José Ortega y Gasset, among
32. Examples include Isaiah. 65:17-19; Rev. 21:5.
33. Hebrews 11:1.
34. I Corinthians 7:31, AMP.