“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Friday, October 22, 2004

Metaphor as metaphor vs. metaphor as reality

The Bible is filled with various metaphors useful in illustrating a point for Christians. Everything from the notion of God as our Father, to us as sheep, are actually metaphor for the purposes of instruction or the assistance with understanding. God is our Father as most of us have had fathers, most of them have been loving, and we can relate to the notion of Father. Apparently God wants to relate to us as a father to his children as well, or he would have chosen some other metaphor to teach us about who he is and how he wants us to relate to him.

There are other metaphors in the Bible, which when taken out of context can result in people being misunderstood and potentially ostracised. For example, the Bible will at times talk about people as being spiritually blind. It is a great metaphor as all one who is sighted needs to do is close her eyes to recognize that she would feel at a great disadvantage. The idea is, that spiritual blindness is similar to physical blindness in its effect on being able to find one's way. However, physical blindness is not spiritual blindness. A person who is physically blind is not necessarily spiritually blind. To equate the two would be a great disservice to the person who is a physically blind Christian.

At other points, people are given a disability by God for greater or lesser periods of time. Paul is blinded on the road to Damascus. Zechariah is unable to speak because of a lack of faith, Nebuchanezzar loses his mind because of his pride and vanity. However, not all who are blind are blind to catch their attention because they are persecuting the church. Not all who cannot speak are that way because of a lack of faith. Not all who deal with various forms of mental illness are that way because they were full of themselves. In fact in the overwhelming number of cases, blindness, speech or mental illness have nothing to do with an individuals behavior at all.

Unfortunately, the exceptions have resulted in Christian social constructions which make them more of the rule. As with the disciples we asked "who sinned?" when we see a person with disability. We ask, "What is God trying to teach you?" when we see a blind person, or think of the destructive lifestyle one must have lived to experience mental illness. We overgeneralize the experiences of a few people in history.

Whether it be the misapplication of a metaphor or the overgeneralization of experiences of people shared in the Bible, we must be careful in our application to people with disability. Metaphor is useful when it is taken as metaphor. The life experience of another is useful when taken within the full picture of the other person's life.


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