The Right Metaphor

Michael Metzger

Iain McGilchrist says Western Christianity is undermining itself. C. S. Lewis said something similar. Both cite the same reason. We’re starting with the wrong metaphor.

Last week, I wrote how Lucifer couldn’t come further up into Heaven. So he couldn’t come further in to see what’s at the center the heavens and the earth. Love. Lucifer only saw law. We’re often guilty of the same error. In The Master and His Emissary, Iain McGilchrist tells us why.

McGilchrist describes how the left and right hemispheres of the brain pay attention to the world in two different ways. The left is narrowly focused, analyzing individual things (“analysis” means to “dissect, to pull apart”). Because of this, the left brain often mistakenly thinks it sees the big picture. The right hemisphere on the other hand is broadly vigilant. It is far better at un-covering the big picture, and therefore comprehending wider and broader view of reality.

This doesn’t mean the right hemisphere is superior to the left. Both hemispheres are necessary and play vital roles. . It’s just better equipped to come further into enchanted reality. It does this because it’s better at collaboration. It is only in our right hemisphere that the world “presents” itself to us. The right then transfers our experiences to the left brain, which gets a “re-presented” version of the world. The left hemisphere analyzes, interprets, and returns all of this to the right hemisphere for refinement (the right plays devil’s advocate).

This reciprocating, back-and-forth between the hemispheres hardly happens anymore in the Western world. A bias for the left brain is winning, making us blind to what we don’t see. One example is what happened on the cross. For most of church history, the consensus was that we were betrothed to Christ on what Augustine called “the marriage bed of the cross.” The cross is about love, Christ betrothing his Bride. However, beginning with Anselm in the 1100s, a narrower view was introduced: substitutionary atonement. Jesus only paid for our sins on the cross. He didn’t betroth us. That’s law, not love. This view became mainstream in the 1500s.

Jesus did indeed pay for our sins. But if the good news is only about satisfying the demands of justice so that God could forgive our sins, then there’s no goods news before we fell into sin. Substitutionary atonement theory parallels criminal law, the penal theory of atonement. It blinds Christians to what happened at the cross, where we were betrothed to Jesus, our husband.

This is one of many reasons that Iain McGilchrist writes, “Western Christianity is active in undermining itself.” Most of us in the Western world don’t start with the right picture regarding the cross our mind. This matters, for, as McGilchrist writes, “All understanding, whether of the world or even of ourselves, depends on choosing the right metaphor. The metaphor we choose governs what we see.”

The right metaphor is marital love, nuptial union. This is how we come further up, into the One True Heaven. We can then come further in, to love, to why we exist, the marital gospel. Marital union is the central organizing metaphor for the gospel. It’s the portal into enchanted reality.

And so I am asking you to come further up and further in. Ransom took this trip, but he was kidnapped. I can’t do that (something about the law). You can read The Chronicles of Narnia. Tumnus the fawn tells Lucy, “The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets.”

Or you can take the red pill. I believe I took it in 1995. I had been a pastor for several years. But I sensed something was off in the American church. So I resigned. The next week, I met Dallas Willard. He became a mentor. A few years later, in 1999, I saw him as my Morpheus.

That was the year “The Matrix” was released. Written by Larry and Andy Wachowski, it’s the story of the human race being blind to its error. When the Wachowski’s agent first read the manuscript, he got all excited. They’d written a script about Descartes. The Enlightenment.

Inside the Enlightenment Matrix, we’re blind to the big picture. We don’t come further up, so we don’t come further in. It’s no coincidence the cross was reduced to law at the same time that the Enlightenment shrouded the Western world. We unknowingly operate inside the Enlightenment Matrix.

In the film, Morpheus recognizes he can’t explain Enlightenment Matrix to someone who’s trapped inside the Enlightenment Matrix. So he asks Neo a question: “Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you seemed so sure it was real? But if we’re unable to wake up, how would you tell the difference between the dream world and the real world?”  Neo recognizes he can’t. So Morpheus makes him an offer: Take the red pill.

I’m offering you the red pill. Take the blue pill and this stuff I’m writing about all goes away. Take the red pill and you wake up in the real world. We begin to come further up.

But that’s next week. For now, a reminder if you’re newly subscribed. This series, further up and further in, began on February 10th. Might want to start there.


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  1. The Enlightenment pried the Law out of the hands of Love and Mercy.

    For I would not have known Love without the Law. For the Law was meant to be the Father who gives the Bride to the Husband.

    Part of my going “further up and further in” was the revelation that Law, Love, and Mercy are nearly interchangeable, even as the names of God. “For Law so loved the world that He gave His only Son”.

    In the same way we delight in the differences between each Person of the Trinity, doing so does not pry them apart from being One God and neither should Law, Love, and Mercy be alienated from, or opposed to each other.

    As the law is spiritual, there is no law against love and love is the fulfilment of the law.

    And it was in this moment that the eyes of my understanding opened to see that unless you love to love you are yet to understand the law.

    And as you say, in place of the hope of marriage that purifies the bride even as the Bridegroom is pure, the Law’s good news is reduced to sin management.

  2. I think the difference between a prod and nudge is that when you poke and push and I turn and look back at you, that is a prod. When I turn and look ahead, that is a nudge. Same action from you. Different reaction/perspective from me. At times your words have been “a prod”. Hopefully more often “a nudge”. Mike, I am grateful for both. Thank you. Keep writing. I had never read Out of the Silent Planet before. I did this past week. Thanks for the nudge.

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