A Metaphor Can Save Us

By Batz, Jeannette | National Catholic Reporter, July 14, 2000 | Go to article overview

A Metaphor Can Save Us


Batz, Jeannette, National Catholic Reporter


Why should a biblical resurrection have more physical verifiability than love itself?

The merlot was an indulgence; usually I avoid wine at lunch, afraid I'll doze over the keyboard the rest of the afternoon. But deadline was met, and the wine was rich and fumy. I held the glass loosely at the stem, letting it tilt and swirl while I reminisced about this year's Good Friday liturgy -- its stark beauty, its deep emotional power. Halfway through what I thought was an eloquent account, my friend looked up from his pasta.

"You really believe all that?"

"All ... what?" I asked, afraid he was referring to my maudlin adjectives.

"That Christ rose from the dead," he said impatiently, "to give us eternal life."

The merlot glow dissipated like fog in sun. I reached for the pitcher of iced tea, buying time.

Did I believe it?

"Maybe not literally, detail by detail as exact historic fact, "I hedged," although I don't disbelieve it either. I just don't know. And to be honest, I'm not even sure the literal facts matter that much to me. Because as metaphor, I believe it absolutely."

I might as well have thrown my head back and issued a war whoop. Charges of hypocrisy flew across the table, landing hard on the side of my face. Instead of turning the other cheek, I ducked and tried to deflect them. "You know, Mike, quite a few theologians and church officials would say the same thing if you got them drank and injected them with truth serum."

"Then they're betraying their flock, because those people depend on the resurrection to be literally true. That's the very ground of their faith. They build their lives on it."

"Exactly," I replied. "The people who believe at the level of metaphor don't want to shake the faith of people for whom that makes no sense, so they just translate back and forth. Which is fine, because they're all saying the same thing, anyway. It's just two different levels of truth."

Mike cocked his head, and I knew I was in for it. "So who says the truth of metaphor's any higher or better than the truth of history?" He pushed away the rest of his pasta and leaned forward. "What is truth, anyway?"

Pilate has asked the same question.

Nobody had answered.

Taking advantage of my silence, Mike fired again: "What good is a metaphor about resurrection if the resurrection didn't physically happen? For that matter, what good is metaphor, period?"

I took a stab about as forceful as a grapefruit knife. "Metaphor is a way to express relationships too profound for regular prose," I recited. "It's the language of symbol; it builds bridges and connects dissimilar things and reconciles opposites and embraces paradox." My list, cribbed from old English class notes, kept growing. "Metaphor," I said finally, "transcends the material world."

Driving home, I continued the conversation alone, and suddenly my points seemed more convincing. Saying something was metaphor didn't mean it wasn't true, it meant it was true in the most universal way possible. Jesus literally dying to save us was a powerful fact, a martyrdom worthy of worship. But if you raised it to metaphor, that death represented the ability of pure, self-sacrificing love to redeem all of creation. …

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