The Jews, keenly alive to the perils of pictorial metaphor, forbade the
representation of the Person of God in graven images. Nevertheless, human
nature and the nature of human language defeated them. No legislation
could prevent the making of verbal pictures: God walks in the garden.
He stretches out His arm, His voice shakes the cedars. His eyelids try
the children of men. To forbid the making of pictures about God would
be to forbid thinking about God at all, for man is so made that he has
no way to think except in pictures. But continually, throughout the history
of the Jewish-Christian Church, the voice of warning has been raised against
the power of the picture-makers: God is a spirit, [John 4:24]
without body, parts or passions; [Anglican Articles of Religion]
He is pure being, I AM THAT I AM [Exodus 4:14].
Man, very obviously, is not a being of this kind; his body, parts and
passions are only too conspicuous in his make-up. How then can he be said
to resemble God? Is it his immortal soul, his rationality, his self-consciousness,
his free will, or what, that gives him a claim to this rather startling
distinction? A case may be argued for all these elements in the complex
nature of man. But had the author of Genesis anything particular in his
mind when he wrote? It is observable that in the passage leading up to
the statement about man, he has given no detailed information about God.
Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when
we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the image
of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, God created.
The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire
and the ability to make things.
This, we may say, is a metaphor like other statements about God. So it
is, but it is none the worse for that. All language about God must, as
St. Thomas Aquinas pointed out, necessarily be analogical. We need not
be surprised at this, still less suppose that because it is analogical
it is therefore valueless or without any relation to the truth. The fact
is, that all language about everything is analogical; we think in a series
of metaphors. We can explain nothing in terms of itself, but only in terms
of other things. Even mathematics can express itself in terms of itself
only so long as it deals with an ideal system of pure numbers; the moment
it begins to deal with numbers of things it is forced back into the language
In particular, when we speak about something of which we have no direct
experience, we must think by analogy or refrain from thought. It may be
perilous, as it must be inadequate, to interpret God by analogy with ourselves,
but we are compelled to do so; we have no other means of interpreting
anything. Skeptics frequently complain that man has made God in his own
image; they should in reason go further (as many of them do) and acknowledge
that man has made all existence in his own image. If the tendency to anthropomorphism
is a good reason for refusing to think about God, it is an equally good
reason for refusing to think about light, or oysters, or battleships.
It may quite well be perilous, as it must be inadequate, to interpret
the mind of our pet dog by analogy with ourselves; we can by no means
enter directly into the nature of a dog; behind the appealing eyes and
the wagging tail lies a mystery as inscrutable as the mystery of the Trinity.
But that does not prevent us from ascribing to the dog feelings and ideas
based on analogy with our own experience; and our behavior to the dog,
controlled by this kind of experimental guesswork, produces practical
results which are reasonably satisfactory.
Similarly the physicist, struggling to interpret the alien structure
of the atom, finds himself obliged to consider it sometimes as a wave
and sometimes as a particle. He knows very well that both
these terms are analogical they are metaphors, picture-thinking,
and, as pictures, they are incompatible and mutually contradictory. But
he need not on that account refrain from using them for what they are
worth. If he were to wait till he could have immediate experience of the
atom, he would have to wait until he was set free from the framework of
the universe. In the meantime, so long as he remembers that language and
observation are human functions, partaking at every point of the limitations
of humanity, he can get along quite well with them and carry out fruitful
researches. To complain that man measures God by his own experience is
a waste of time; man measures everything by his own experience; he has
no other yardstick.
Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957)
The Mind of the Maker (1941)
Chapter II The Image of God pp. 21ff