Updated: May 13
Throughout salvation history sages have tried to explain God and his relationship to man in a variety of ways. God, who transcends the universe, defies explanation and therefore many metaphors have been explored to try to convey what is meant by the word God without losing what it means to be God. God is at the center of reality, but in Wisdom literature, He is brought down into the world of space, time, and action to make Him comprehensible. Throughout this project, the sage seeks adequate ways to explain that this ineffable God is deeply in love with that which He created.
God lies outside normal human experience so Wisdom authors must rely on their imagination and common experiences to help explain what God is like. This sapiential imagination helps shape the worldview of both the author and the reader. In this way, the reader can see the vision of the author, relying on common cultural ideas and images that make complex and sophisticated philosophical ideas easier to share. Imagining and explaining God, who completely transcends the universe, as the center of reality is a necessary component of sapiential imagination (Perdue 52).
It is difficult to explain God because He is very alien from our everyday experience. He is not “constrained by the boundaries of the sapiential worldview” (Perdue 55). His otherworldliness defies our understanding. Yet, He reaches down to us through revelation and religious experience, guiding us toward Himself (Perdue 56). The sage relies on metaphor to make Him known. Perhaps even more importantly, the sage shows us that while God is outside of the world, He is not merely the abstract first cause of philosophy but also deeply in love with His creation.
In the Old Testament, we find many metaphors for God but perhaps the most striking is that in Song of Songs. The book is a sensual story of the love between a man and a woman, the sage reimagines the suzerainty relationship between God and His people as separated lovers who burn with passion for each other. In chapter 3 we find a woman searching for her beloved, the people of God yearning for Him (3:1). Human love expresses the love between God and His people. When the lovers are finally reunited, she embraces Him and refuses to let Him go (Song of Songs 3:4).
God isn’t just concerned for His creation, but He is passionately in love with it. He is compared with a great tree in whose shade the beloved rests and eats of his fruit (Song of Songs 2:3). He offers the fruit of his own body to nourish her. Nothing else can satisfy like He can, his love sustains and refreshes. She can completely abandon herself to Him.
Throughout the Old Testament, we see God searching for his people and inviting them into covenant with Him. His love remains even while they are unfaithful. The metaphor of infidelity is often employed to describe this relationship. The book of Hosea provides a powerful image of the relationship between God and his people as a marriage. He instructs Hosea to marry a harlot as a symbol of the unfaithfulness of the nation who forsakes Him (Hosea 1:4). Yet, in spite of this infidelity his love is not lessened. Although she is not faithful, He awaits the day when “you will call me, ‘My Husband’” (Hosea 2:16). He waits for His people to be true so they might be betrothed “in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy” (2:19).
This passionate love story in salvation history does not end in the Old Testament, though. Early in the Gospel of John, John the Baptist compares Christ to a bridegroom. He explains that He is not the Christ, but He is the friend of the bridegroom “who stands and hears him, [and] rejoices at the bridegroom’s voice” (John 3:29). In the synoptic Gospels, Jesus describes himself as a bridegroom when he says, “Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15).
Further, in the book of Ephesians, we find St. Paul comparing the relationship of a husband and a wife with the relationship between Christ and His Church. He exhorts, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:24). This love is a sacrificial love, offering itself on behalf of the beloved solely for the lover's sake. God’s love for his people is so great that He offers Himself for them. He then alludes to Genesis (2:24) by writing that man and woman joining together to become one is a great mystery that reflects the love that God has for us (Ephesians 5:31-32).
Human relationships are all rich metaphors for God’s love for his creation. The mystic Julian of Norwich described her visions of God’s unending love for us. She wrote “I saw that God enjoyeth that He is our father... our mother... our very spouse and our soul is his loved wife” (Norwich 120). She explained that God’s endless love made Him suffer to beckon us back to Him. He made us as He loved us, when we were made to love Him in return. "We are his loved wife, and His fair maiden; with which wife He was never displeased... and our loved shall never part in two” (136). God’s love surpasses all expectations, even when we are unfaithful, and the only reasonable response from us is to return that love.
All of these metaphors paint a vivid picture of the love God has for us. However, the physical reality of human love is like a living metaphor that points us back toward God. Bishop Fulton Sheen explains that all earthly love is an echo of the Triune Love (Sheen 53). Love has two terms: I love and I am loved. This kind of love unites two into one, without ceasing to be distinct. “Unity does not mean absorption or annihilation or destruction, but the fullness of one in the other” (Sheen 60). This points toward the mysterious unity of three distinct, divine persons in the Blessed Trinity.
The infinite thought of God, the Word, is not only Wisdom but also a Son, a Person who is the perfect image of the Father. The mutual love between Father and Son is “so rooted in the Divine essence as to be personal. For that reason, the Holy Spirit is called a Person” (Sheen 59). The conjugal love between husband and wife is a beautiful sign of divine love. Through participation in the creating action of God human love is personified in a child. This is a picture of God who is love. The persons of the Trinity love each other perfectly and love is best understood in its perfection.
True love is mutual self-giving and the self-gift of husband and wife reflects the love between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Marriage is a love that seeks to both give and receive. The union of spouses is at first dual, then triune. It blossoms with something outside, given by God to unite their love, which is the child whose soul comes from God. Mother, father, and child unite in the human nature as a faint image of the Triune law of Love (Sheen 66).
Love is at the center of the Christian life. In all the manners of ministry, this fact cannot be forgotten or left behind. Scripture is full of images of God’s love for his people. He creates out of love and continues to draw us back to relationship with Him. We are created for love and we exist to be in relationship. Jesus gave us the key when He told us the two things that were necessary: love God and love neighbor. All other things are temporary, only love extends beyond the limits of this world.
God communicates to us through the physical world and our bodies are like a metaphor that helps us understand God’s love for us and the love we must have for one another. In Scripture, we see God as a lover or a bridegroom so we can know His love for us. However, we can experience His love in the flesh through marriage which images the love of the persons of the Trinity. God is love and all human love is a participation in Divine love and through which we can know God, who is beyond natural comprehension.
Coogan, Michael D, Marc Z. Brettler, Carol A. Newsom, and Pheme Perkins. The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version : with the Apocrypha : an Ecumenical Study Bible. Oxford [England: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Norwich, Julian Of. Revelations of Divine Love (Short Text and Long Text). Translated by Elizabeth Spearing, Penguin Books, 1998.
Perdue, Leo G. Wisdom & Creation: The Theology of Wisdom Literature. Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2009.
Sheen, Fulton J. Three to Get Married. Scepter Publishers, 2004.