Family as Metaphor for God, the Gospel and Politics

Psalm 83:15 Drive them with your tempest *
and terrify them with your storm;

16 Cover their faces with shame, O Lord, *
that they may seek your Name.

17 Let them be disgraced and terrified for ever; * let them be put to confusion and perish.

18 Let them know that you, whose Name is Yahweh, *you alone are the Most High over all the earth.

I was surprised to see in my personal scriptural journal no reflection on Psalm 83 in all the years I have been keeping one. Surprised and yet not so much. This psalm reads to me as one I categorize as “Us-Them” – one that insists God take care of the enemy, that presumes God is on one side or another and thus on my or the ‘us’ side.  I don’t feel the Holy Spirit in psalms or prayers that ask God to do dirty work, to show ‘them’ – the other, the enemy. This psalm goes further – it asks not only that God disgrace and shame ‘them’, but also presumes that in so doing the enemy will seek and know God.  The psalmist prescribes for God a plan that will bring ‘them’ – the other – the enemy – to Him.  As if – as if shaming and terrifying the other is God’s way.  I picture God looking down in response saying,   “You want me to do what?” (an image found on Google attributed to The Family Guy).family_guy_god_incredulous00_display

Is this how non-believers come to God? Does it take the strong arm of God to ‘show them’? The strictest of disciplinarians? Is this the way non-believers get to God? By experiencing his wrath? What motivates a non-believer to change their world view?

One way is by nurturing, healing, loving and caring for one another in Jesus’ name, as illustrated in the reading from Acts, today:

11 God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, 12so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them…When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised. 18Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices. 19A number of those who practised magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books* was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. 20So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

god-as-caretakerRather than employing the Holy Spirit to eradicate the enemy – in this case magicians trying to co-opt the name of Jesus to effect tricks of their trade – Paul becomes a vessel for the Holy Spirit to show ‘them’ God’s wonders and miracles.  The residents of Ephesus witness the healings and were awestruck  – not disgraced nor shamed or destroyed for not knowing God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit was the way, the source of all life, the ‘Most High over all the earth‘ as the psalmist wrote.

The residents of Ephesus changed their world view and were transformed in their new belief system to the point that the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

Changing world views en masse is no easy task and certainly not as easy as the psalmist believes it should be.  Especially ones that stick – ones that usher in a sea change as what occurred in Ephesus and all of Asia during the first centuries after Jesus’ resurrection, turning households of Gentiles and Jews, cities, states, and nations to Jesus Christ.

Thinking of today’s political arena and how much a red state candidate would like to effect such change in a blue state.

Recent research has confirmed a hunch many of us have probably had about how we come to see the world one way or another, why it is so difficult to change our world views and why it is so hard to understand the world views of ‘the other’.  The research was focused on politics, but has relevant application to how a person understands God, the gospel and the other.

“Our political preferences are driven by hidden moral frameworks we’re not even aware of,” says linguistic researcher George Lakoff.

Turns out it is not as much about what you were taught or exposed to at an early age, but how you were parented. The research points to metaphor – a family metaphor as the framework. And within that framework, it is how we were raised and parented that has the most agency in our individual lives for creating the lens through which we comprehend God and the world.

I heard the research summarized on a podcast recently and couldn’t help but think of the gospel and how and why the truth revealed in scripture has cut through to some non-believers (the other, the enemy, etc as named in the psalm ) and not others.  Is it possible that this metaphor of the Kingdom of God as a family (relationship based, first relationship with God, the FATHER) ‘lay beneath the mutual incomprehension that believers and non-believers feel toward one another?’

Here is how Lakoff unpacked the idea when thinking of the divide between Republicans and Democrats that eventually lead to the research that confirmed his hunch:

“We have a metaphor that the nation is a family. We have Founding Fathers, we send our sons and daughters to war, we have homeland security, we don’t want missiles in our backyard and so on and so on,” he says. “And the idea that occurred to me is that if that’s the case, if you have two different views of the nation, you may have two different views of the family. So I worked backwards. I took the two different views of the nation, worked backwards through the metaphor and out popped two different views of the family.”

Lakoff explains the impact of the family metaphor on voting and the political landscape this way:

…differences in opinions between liberals and conservatives follow from the fact that they subscribe with different strength to two different central metaphors about the relationship of the state to its citizens. Both, he claims, see governance through metaphors of the family. Conservatives would subscribe more strongly and more often to a model that he calls the “strict father model” and has a family structured around a strong, dominant “father” (government), and assumes that the “children” (citizens) need to be disciplined to be made into responsible “adults” (morality, self-financing). Once the “children” are “adults”, though, the “father” should not interfere with their lives: the government should stay out of the business of those in society who have proved their responsibility. In contrast, Lakoff argues that liberals place more support in a model of the family, which he calls the “nurturant parent model“, based on “nurturant values”, where both “mothers” and “fathers” work to keep the essentially good “children” away from “corrupting influences” (pollution, social injustice, poverty, etc.). Lakoff says that most people have a blend of both metaphors applied at different times, and that political speech works primarily by invoking these metaphors and urging the subscription of one over the other.[11]

So, what does this have to do with the two readings from today’s Daily Office?  Just that there are many ways to God, and it would do all preachers and evangelists well to consider how we are framing the invitation to those we are blessed to witness and speak to. Are we looking for God to shame the non-believer into belief?  To disgrace ‘the other’ in order to elevate our positions before God as some sort of twisted example of righteousness?  Or perhaps and just because it is easier, are we indifferent to the non-believer or worse, indifferent to the shallowness of the faith lives of many church goers?

How does the family metaphor operate in your world view?  In your knowledge of God? What message – or how – would you bring a non-believer to Christ?  What kind of vessel are you for God’s Word?  What role does the strict parent play in your messages?  And what role the nurturer and healer?

Praise God.

Thursday Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm [83] or 146, 147; PM Psalm 85, 86
Esther 7:1-10 or Judith 12:1-20; Acts 19:11-20; Luke 4:14-30




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