I walked into a Bible college auditorium filled with undergraduate students to hear a man I deeply respect preach about restorative justice work. I walked in late, having mistakenly assumed that chapel happened in the chapel and not the main auditorium, but I caught the end of the last worship song before the message:
Behold our God seated on His throne
Come let us adore Him
Behold our King nothing can compare
Come let us adore Him!
The lyrics, and a large group of young people singing those lyrics, triggered something in me. I crossed my arms over my chest, looking down at my feet. The refrain repeated enough times to give me space to think about my thinking. The metaphor of God as king is popular and pervasive, but clearly that day it was an image that was standing in my way of worship. God as a man, a rich and powerful man sitting still was not working for me. I have not had any direct experience with kings, in that way the metaphor seems old and far away. My mind when tot the closest thing in my context– the image of a male political leader, sitting back comfortably while his subjects tremble– that image I can easily conjure up. I also have direct experience of everyday men, turning chairs into thrones, bloated with entitlement, expecting to be adored. Thinking of these men doesn’t bring me to a place of awe and wonder. Instead of opening me up, it shut me down. Instead of closer, God felt far away.
Just a day earlier, I presented a much different metaphor for God to a bunch of little kids during a children’s sermon. We were working with Psalm 23, and to make it real to kids, I focused on God being with us as we walk in darkness. Halloween is coming, after all. I proposed that luckily, our God isn’t afraid of the dark. Then I pulled out my son’s nightlight, a ladybug, whose shell has stars and a moon shape holes in it. You can choose to project red, green or blue light through the ladybug, and a colorful star-filled sky will appear in the darkness, filling the entire room. “Sometimes we wish God would just turn on the light and make the dark go away,” I said. “But I think God is more like this ladybug nightlight. God sits with us in the dark and works to make that darkness more beautiful.”
The contrast between a throned king and a ladybug nightlight is laughable. It initially strikes me odd that a genderless inanimate object is the more effective metaphor for God for me. In other ways, it makes sense. It’s close, comforting, and intimate. It’s harder to project this idea into our world because it, like the God as rock metaphor, only works as an idea. It infuses the nightlight with meaning, but there is no real risk of unearned adoration of the object. God as a towering male King works as a God metaphor for some, I’m sure. Today, I’m sticking with the ladybug.