Consider the fable of six blind men encountering an elephant for the first time. They have no comprehension of what an elephant is, forming their own understanding based on touch:
- The first, feels the animal’s side and says that an elephant is like a wall
- The second, feels the pachyderm’s legs, declaring it to be like a tree
- The third, touches the animal’s tusks and visualizes a spear.
- The fourth, experiences the flick of the elephant’s tail, envisaging the animal like a rope
- The fifth, encounters the mammal’s ears, stating that an elephant is like a blanket.
- The sixth is touched by the curious animal’s trunk, thinking the elephant is snake-like.
Yes, an elephant is like a wall, a tree, a spear, a rope, a blanket, and a snake. Each is correct, but also incomplete. Even putting them all together provides only are partial caricature of an elephant.
In the same way our word pictures for God as a potter, vine, hen, shepherd, master, father, friend, and lover are also correct, but even more incomplete. Therefore, when we put them all together, we are provided with only are partial caricature of God and our relationship to him.
Nevertheless, these word pictures do allow us to perceive him more fully than before.
In recent reflections, we have considered eight word pictures to give us insight into our relationship with God. While none provides a complete picture, each does offer a glimpse into one facet of who God is.
We looked at:
- God is a Potter and we are clay: He is molding us into his plan for us.
- God is a Vine and we are branches: He is nourishing us, allowing us to grow and bear fruit.
- God is a Hen and we are his baby chicks: He gathers us beneath his wings to protect us and keep us safe from danger.
- God is the Shepherd and we are his sheep: He watches us, protects us, and rescues us when we get into trouble.
- God is our Master and we are servants: He gives us opportunities to serve and honor him.
- God is our Father and we are his children: He loves us, died for us, and will give us an inheritance.
- God is our Friend: He talks to us, walks with us, and we hang out.
- God is our Lover: He desires spiritual intimacy and ecstasy with us.
Putting all of these together, we can begin to get a sense of who God is and our relationship too him.
The final word picture to help us better understand God, is perhaps the most startling and difficult to comprehend, even shocking.
In this word picture, we consider him as the groom (the Bible often uses the word “bridegroom”) and us as his bride. As followers of Jesus, that is, the Christ, we are even called “the bride of Christ.”
With us betrothed to him, we see a relationship filled with spiritual intimacy and ecstasy. In short, we are lovers. This may be a difficult image to comprehend or even consider, but it is the desire and longing of God to be in a close, personal relationship with us.
How awesome is that?
[See Isaiah 62:5, Jeremiah 2:2, Revelation 19:7, 2 Corinthians, and Revelation 22:17]
In the next word picture for God, we can consider God as our friend.
As our relationship with God grows and progresses, there is an opportunity for us to become friends, perhaps analogous to a parent and their adult child.
As friends, we (that is, God and us) spend time together, communicate with each other, share, and just hang out. Even so, we need to be reminded that although there is friendship, there is not equality.
[Consider these verses about friendship: Exodus 33:11, John 15:13, Proverbs 17:17, Proverbs 18:24, and Proverbs 27:6]
The sixth word picture is God as our father and we as his children.
Although not everyone had a good biological father — in fact all human fathers make mistakes in raising their children — our spiritual father, God, is without fault, raising us out of perfect love and without error.
With God as our spiritual father, that is our father in heaven, we see him as being wise, loving, disciplining, and patient. Also, as our father there is the hope of us one day receiving an inheritance from him.
For us as God’s children, we are loved, cared for, given generous gifts, and protected. We are also heirs, looking forward to an inheritance that we will one day receive from him — eternal life for all who follow him.
Lastly, just as adult children have the potential for friendship with their earthly parents, we too, are poised to become a friend with our heavenly parent, God.
[See Romans 8:16-17, 1 John 3:1, 2 Corinthians 6:18, 2 Samuel 7:14]
The next word picture for God, is him as the master and we as his servants.
With God as our master we see him as being in charge; he is the boss and directs our activities.
Extending this image to us, there is a need to follow directives, to listen to him and obey him. We do have a choice (free will), however, and can choose to not obey, but that would make us to be an unfaithful servant.
Also, there is also the reminder that we can only truly serve one master: God or something else: be it money, things, a job, a person or relationship, amassing power, attaining prestige, or even leisure.
[Matthew 6:24, Matthew 10:24, 1 Samuel 3:10, Matthew 25:21]
In the fourth word picture for God, we consider the common image of God as the good shepherd and we as his sheep.
God, as the good shepherd, is caring, protective, patient, brave, wise, sacrificial, and most significantly, knows us by name.
Sheep, are known as being not too intelligent, easily getting into trouble and frequently needing to be rescued, but they do know the voice of the shepherd, usually going to him when he calls.
(See A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 for a more in-depth and insightful consideration of this word picture.)
[Psalm 119:176, Isaiah 53:6, Ezekiel 34:11, Matthew 9:36, John 10:3, John 10:15, John 10:27, 1 Peter 2:25]
A third word picture for God is found in a not too well know verse, where Jesus says that he wants to collect his people and protect them as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.
With God (specifically Jesus) as a mother hen, we are treated to a glimpse of the feminine side of God, as being safe, warm, protecting, and comforting.
We, as baby chicks, are vulnerable, possibly scared, and in need of what the “hen” provides. Yet if we don’t come to the hen (God), we miss out on what she (Jesus) has to offer.
[Matthew 23:37, Luke 13:34, Psalm 91:4, Psalm 57:1]
Another word picture to help us better understand God is that he is the vine and we are the branches.
In this, God is revealed as the source of nourishment, the giver of life, and the means of support, sustenance, and existence.
For us, as vines, we are completely dependent on him for everything and can produce fruit only through him. Also, just as fruit trees are pruned, so to, we are pruned in order to be more productive. Additionally, note that branches that are unproductive are removed.
The Bible contains many word pictures that help us to understand better our relationship with God. I have eight of them that I will share in the coming days. Note that each offers but a partial picture into God’s character and none is all-encompassing, but they are highly illustrative. Here is the first:
God is a potter and we are the clay.
He molds us and makes us into whatever he wishes, sometimes into elegant vessels and others into common utensils. From this, we can see God portrayed as being in control, creative, a craftsman, a workman, and sovereign. God’s sovereignty, is something that is not too popular in today’s world.
Correspondingly, we, as clay, are moldable, subject to his will and pleasure; we have no real will of our own.
[Isaiah 64:8, Jeremiah 18:6, Isaiah 29:16, Isaiah 45:9, Romans 9:21]