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Pastor, professor and author Carolyn Bohler's new book, God the What?, takes readers on a rewarding and evocative faith journey. Arguing that while any description of God is partial, metaphors point to the God we believe in, and that the pointing itself can open new windows into the experience of the living God. She goes beyond discussions of God’s gender to important notions of how God uses power, how God wills and makes God’s will happen. In the process, she examines foundational, underlying beliefs about God’s presence, action and possibility in a variety of life experiences.
Bohler takes experience and language equally seriously. She draws with ease upon experiences in pastoral ministry and in her own life, including the major California earthquake of 1994 and the accidental death of her son, Stephen, in 2003. She is not afraid to ask the hardest questions of faith and to push beyond platitudes and easy stereotypes to profoundly evocative metaphors for God’s presence in such painful, wrenching circumstances. At the same time, she is playfully comfortable naming God’s presence in nature, in childhood experiences, and in all matter of circumstances of sickness and health. All this is part of what she calls a lively, multidimensional faith, made more rich and profound through metaphors for God that are both traditionally familiar and refreshingly unexpected. God the Bright Night Light? God the Divine Blacksmith? God the Uncountable Infinity? Good metaphors for God are profoundly relevant to the lived experience of faith and doubt, assurance and wonder.
A good metaphor, she argues, will startle or shock us into a new insight into God’s multidimensionality. The word metaphor comes from the Greek, meaning 'a transfer,’ or ‘to carry over.’ Metaphors thus describe what carries over from one object to another, the new insight coming from seeing the two objects in relation to one another. Good ones convey similarities and differences between the two. Metaphors for God should simultaneously evoke recognition and familiarity while at the same time conveying a sense of surprise and even skepticism, expressions of both "Yes, God IS like that," and also “No, God is not quite like that.” This combination of our yes and our no reflects the possibilities and the limitations of language, points to God while never fully giving voice to the mystery of the Holy One.
Bohler’s premise is that multiple metaphors for God need not be mutually exclusive. We do not have to let go of one in order to take up another. The challenge, she posits, is to discover those metaphors that limit or conflict with our sense of God and which metaphors revitalize or increase our perception. Old metaphors of God as shepherd, potter, author, daddy, rock and so forth are explored for enduring as well as new possibilities of meaning. And new metaphors such as God the jazz band leader, the improviser, the graffiti artist grow out of faith experiences from her own life and people within her congregations.
This book is a gift to the spiritual life of the believer by first offering new and fresh imagery to a variety of faith experiences. But perhaps its deeper gift comes at the point at which it lovingly probes daunting questions around the possibilities and limits of God’s will and power. Questions of “God the What?” are followed by all the vexing questions of “God Can Do What?,” “God Wants What?,” and “God Interacts How?,” that underlie the most disturbing and challenging situations of pastoral care and counseling. Bohler shows how unexamined metaphors for God can create or limit the experience of God’s healing presence in these most challenging of life’s circumstances. Drawing on mini-case studies from her own pastoral experience, Bohler invites the reader into ways of opening up new possibilities for the naming of God’s presence and love right in the midst of disturbing and painful situations.
These reflections point to the power of love at the heart of God’s interaction with us. By inviting the reader into new ways of wondering about God’s presence at precisely those times when it is hardest to recognize and to name, Bohler’s poetic use of new metaphors for God opens windows into the heart of God that are life-giving and transformative.
It would be a shame if the book’s title misleads potential readers into thinking that this is yet one more admonition to think beyond God the father or God the judge, and so forth. It is much, much more. This book is an invitation to more faithful living and praying, more profound worship and praise, more healing counsel and care. Its insights will be welcomed by pastors and parishioners alike, to life-long believers and to seekers. Its dance of life and faith invites every reader into a closer, more authentic relationship with the God of love.(Rev. Patricia Farris United Methodist Newsletter 2009-06-01)
This is an easy, thoughtful look at the analogies we make for God, taken from everyday life. The book is an ideal read for someone who has just "discovered" God in their lives. Christ followers who are further into their own journey however, might become bemused by the wide variety of figurative language about God found here. There is a strong monotheistic theme, with little mention of the Trinity.
However, the author does make some striking implication in the ways we understand God. Our descriptions of God affect what we believe about ourselves. Convincingly, she goes on to show how the dominant image we have for God, we will imitate in our lives.
For instance, if we imagine God to be distant, almighty and all-knowing, thus our human actions are influenced in those ways. But if we imagine God to be responsive, affective, and attentive, then our lives will be in better harmony. The writer makes no claim for this conclusion as a universal truth, but it would be hard to refute that.
The book climaxes in the examination of the "God as Coach" metaphor. The author refines this to the ultimate, "Team Transformer God" metaphor: a God of power, location and knowledge, where the players, (that's you and me), are called upon to forfeit our self-interests. This enables the team to work together at a very deep level, to overcome the skilful opponents. Any analogy about who the "skilful opponents" could be, is left to the reader's imagination.
Regardless of the singularity of the deity maintained throughout this work, the book is a pleasant, worthwhile read. Should you ever be confronted by the child-like enquiry, "What does God look like?", or any pagan-cast challenge about what is God, then there is a wealth of responses to be found in these pages. GOD(Rev Bruce Raymond Journey 2009-12-07)
Carolyn Jane Bohler is lead pastor at First United Methodist Church in Redlands, California, and former senior pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Tustin, California. For twenty-one years she was the Emma Sanborn Toussaint Professor of Pastoral Theology and Counseling at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and has also served as editor of the Journal of Pastoral Theology. She is author of Opening to God: Guided Imagery Meditations on Scripture (published under the name Carolyn Stahl); When You Need to Take a Stand; and the children's book God Is Like a Mother Hen and Much, Much More.