The Mind of the Maker

Posted on September 27, 2011

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My brother recently recommended reading The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers, which I put on hold at the library. I was able to pick it up late last week and as I began to read it I knew that it would be one of those special books that I wanted to read fast so I could get to the next insight and slow so that I wouldn’t miss anything. The Preface alone is worth reading.

Here are is a quote taken from the first chapter. It jumped out at me because so much of the current conversation about God is about how we talk about God. The book was published in 1941, but the truth behind the words is needed as much today as it might have been then.

The quote is preceded by a section about the words we use for God, specifically the prevalence of imagery of “God as Father.”

When we use these expressions, we know perfectly well that they are metaphors and analogies; what is more, we know perfectly well where the metaphor begins and ends. We do not suppose for one moment that God procreates children in the same manner as a human father and we are quite well aware that preachers who use the “father” metaphor intended and expect no such perverse interpretation of their language. Nor (unless we are very stupid indeed) do we go on to deduce from the analogy that we are to imagine God as being a cruel, careless or injudicious father such as we may see from time to time in daily life; still less, that all the activities of a human father may be attributed to God, such as earning money for the support of the family or demanding the first use of the bathroom in the morning. Our own common sense assures us that the metaphor is intended to be drawn from the best kind of father acting within a certain limited sphere of behavior, and is to be applied only to a well-defined number of the divine attributes.

I have put down these very elementary notes on the limitations of metaphor, because this book is an examination of metaphors about God, and because it is well to remind ourselves before we begin of the way in which metaphorical language-that is to say, all language-is properly used. It is an expression of experience and of the relation of one experience to the other. Further, its meaning is realized only in experience. We frequently say, “Until I had that experience, I never knew what the word fear (or love, or anger, or whatever it is) meant.” The language, which had been merely pictorial, is transmuted into experience and we then have immediate knowledge of the reality behind the picture.

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