Sunday, December 25, 2011

Tropes: Science and Isaiah

On the value of metaphor to science:

The tentative discovery at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider of the Higgs boson -- among the key missing links in our fundamental theories of matter -- again shows the surprising power of mathematics to illuminate nature’s secrets. But the discovery also points to the value of scientific metaphor, of guessing that things we know nothing about might turn out to be surprisingly similar to things we’re familiar with. Indeed, the theory behind the Higgs boson owes as much to what’s already known about mundane things like iron magnets and metals as it does to exotic mathematics.

From a conversation with Walter Brueggemann:

Ms. Tippett: I'd love to talk about your image of God, and I want you to talk about that more personally. But I thought I might start, you know, for example, in one of your sermons, you are talking about some poetry, Isaiah, and you talk about that it offers five images for God. This is just one — (laughter) one passage in Isaiah:

"A demolition squad, a safe place for poor people who have no other safe place, the giver of the biggest dinner party you ever heard of, the powerful sea monster he will swallow up death forever, a gentle nursemaid who will wipe away every tear from all faces."

How are normal people, not biblical scholars, how are they to make sense of a text like that? Of a God — who God is?

Mr. Brueggemann: Well, they're going to make sense of it if they have good preachers and teachers to help them pause long enough to take in the imagery. But you see, what the church does with its creeds and its doctrinal tradition, it flattens out all the images and metaphors to make it fit into a nice little formulation and then it's deathly. So we have to communicate to people, if you want a God that is healthier than that, you're going to have to take time to sit with these images and relish them and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame.

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