By Michael Lee Cook, Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care
As the father of two wonderful children, I have learned that metaphors are powerful teaching tools, particularly in conveying lasting lessons about life and offering hope, healing, and insight in moments of confusion and doubt. Metaphors are powerful linguistic tools that are less a matter of concrete knowledge and more an expression of faith in our individual lives and collective existence.
Metaphors are used in every sphere of human endeavor. Generals use metaphors to inspire troops into battle. Executives use metaphors to stimulate employee morale. Coaches use metaphors to propel their teams to victory in the final seconds of a critical game. Politicians use metaphors to win elections and secure legislative agendas. Simply, metaphors have the power to speak to the longings and aspirations of the human spirit.
Jesus understood the power of metaphors to express deep truths, speak to broken souls, and offer lasting wisdom. Indeed, the metaphor was the central force that grounded his many parables. Even more, the Christian tradition is replete with significant metaphors that speak to the full range of human experience. In this sense, Christianity might be helpfully understood as a metaphorical faith at heart that speaks to matters of hope, healing, and insight.
Of the many metaphors of Christianity that support these messages, I find the metaphor of adoption to be one of the most compelling and essential in understanding and explicating the divine-human relationship. The apostle Paul used this metaphor to express God’s deep and abiding love for us as children adopted into God’s family. And to be adopted into God’s family is to have unrestricted access to God’s compassion, forgiveness, grace, love, and wisdom.
In practical terms, the metaphor of adoption, with its deep divine assurances, can prove helpful as we journey through life, particularly at moments of confusion, doubt, grief, loneliness, and loss. As a pastoral counselor, I often draw attention to these assurances with clients in therapy struggling with deep emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain and problems. Time and time again, the metaphor of adoption has proven to open up new possibilities and pathways for clients in living both individually and within interpersonal relationships.
To be adopted by God is to have a permanent support during all of life’s twists and turns.
So, in moments of deep pain and confusion, let us drink generously from the abiding waters of our adoption as a way of quenching our thirst for hope, healing, and insight. Let us find comfort and rest in knowing that we are adopted children of God, the adoption metaphor makes this clear. In sum, metaphors have the power to speak for and to the soul. Then, let us always search the many metaphors of our faith that can speak to our deepest concerns and hopes.
Michael Lee Cook is pastoral theologian and licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in marriage and family care and counseling. He is also a clinical fellow and approved supervisor candidate in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT) and serves as the president of the South-Metro chapter of the Georgia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (GAMFT).
Michael also serves as an adjunct professor of pastoral care at Candler School of Theology, and a member of the faculty for the Leadership In Ministry program at Columbia Theological Seminary. His research interests include the psychology of religion, adoption, fatherhood, and the integration of theology and psychology. He is a member of the Society for Pastoral Theology (SPT), American Association of Pastoral Counselors (AAPC), and the American Academy of Religion (AAR). His forthcoming book, Black Fatherhood, Adoption, and Theology: A Contextual Analysis and Response (Peter Lang Publishing) is due out next month.
He is an ordained Baptist Minister and is affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Michael is an avid runner, golfer and Army veteran. He spends his free time with his beautiful wife Crystal and two wonderful children, Myles and Lauren.