"The imagery really matters."
The above is a quote from Leanne Payne, and like most things she says, it packs a whollop and takes several pages (or books) to unpack. I will refer to her writings several times in this article, as she is a great pioneer in the field of Christian psychology and the healing of the homosexual. I highly recommend everyone to pick up at least one of her books as I can only present a truncated and superficial rendering here of the issues at hand.
I like to say that everything is like God, but He is not like anything. It is no stretch to say that every created thing demonstrates some aspect of the One Who created and sustains it. After all, doesn't every work show something of its maker? God's nature is so complex and unfathomably vast that it should not be a stumbling block to think that every bit of created matter shadows a portion of that nature.
This is the basic principle that gave rise to both the parable and the Sunday School object lesson. And it is this from-God-ness -- this creation ex deo, to be somewhat brash -- that carries the concept and substance of metaphor.
Far more than an English class vocabulary word, metaphor is a foundation principle for all human life. The lines you see before you are metaphors for sounds that in themselves symbolize ideas. Every turn of phrase, each pet name and colloquial idiom, is a true metaphor. And this is no divine mistake. God loves metaphor. He loves creation, and the creative use of His cosmic playground delights Him as does the possibility for interpretation and revelation that every inch of that playground wields.
God shows us His intense interest in symbol in the more un-invigorating books of the Old Testament. Why else would the Supreme God specify in such exact detail each aspect of the tabernacle? In this -- and many acts like it -- He not only demonstrates His love and investment in minutiae but sets up a very specific and inspired system of symbol. (It is the very same process which He uses on a larger scale in the book of Genesis to put in place an equally specified mythology.)
God loves metaphor.
In fact, symbol is one of the most powerful and prevalent avenues of His revelation. "The Kingdom of Heaven is like..." a million things. What greater value, then, must He (and therefore His people here) place on the prescribed Christian symbolic system -- the system centred around the cross, transforming ideas of bread and wine, fish and lambs?
The key to revival in the church today is not a new brand of worship CDs or the dynamic testimony of a sinner saved. It is simply a return to the truth and power of God's own symbols. (Leanne Payne writes on this theme with prophetic clarity in her books, most notably The Healing Presence and Restoring the Christian Soul.)
Imagination comes into play here. G. K. Chesterton says that "the true imagination is that which can see what is really there." It is through the refined and surrendered imagination that God speaks to us through symbol. The church of today has a tendency to downplay or even demonize the imagination due to its great power for misuse, but in the hands of the One Who created it, it is our best link to His Spirit.
In part because of this intimate link with the imaging functions of our souls, symbol has an unbreakable bond with emotion. Think of what symbols can evoke in you: a Christmas tree, a cup of steaming coffee, a sleeping child. Payne says that "to get in touch with a symbol is to get in touch with a feeling. Approaching the feeling through symbol objectifies the emotion, allowing for proper surrender and handling." It is for this reason that Christian symbols such as the cross, water, oil, bread and wine are of such great use in prayer and healing.
Christian symbols are not the only powerful metaphors shaping us, however. Thousands bombard us every day, and some we live with in such close contact that their effects are inevitably lasting. Prime among these are the living symbols of Mother and Father. The way in which these symbols were modeled for us shapes our view of God, ourselves, the world, and other humans in deep and insidious ways.
Even more foundational are the symbols of Man and Woman. These are forever bound to those of Father and Mother, and our unconscious beliefs and reactions to these most basic of symbols shapes our entire path of life.
Sexuality is in large part an interplay of these symbols, Man with Woman, Woman with Man. It is in seeking that which is Other that we reach out to certain people and become sexually and romantically drawn to them. When we are unsure of our own place in the symbolic system, however, we are even more unsure of the place of the Other.
A girl who has little to no abiding sense of Woman in her own being, for example, may seek that vital and seemingly missing essence in others of the female sex. Likewise, a man lacking a sense of Manhood may chase after those in whom he sees that trait. This tendency has been called the cannibal compulsion, owing to the pursuer's desire to devour the pursued in order to appropriate their more desirable attributes. This compulsion is, of course, highly subconscious, but once it has been unmasked, it is all too easy to note its active role in every day of life.
It is for this reason that Payne has labeled homosexuality "symbolic confusion". This description more than any other I have found aptly describes same-sex attraction. Sadly, it is a confusion shared not only by the gay world but by the church as well. Until God's Body returns to a solid grounding in symbol -- from Man and Woman to bread and wine -- we can hardly hope to pull our children out of our own confusion.