Master of the Metaphor

How do you describe that which is indescribable? That was the challenge Jesus had in describing himself to people who were mostly clueless about his true identity.

He did what virtually all great writers and speakers do. He used metaphors. No one word can describe everything about a complex human being, much less the Son of God. But a good metaphor can instantly illuminate aspects of character, personality and purpose. That’s why Jesus used so many.

I once had a student who described her main character as “a red-haired, red-freckled firecracker of a girl.” It was brilliant. In that simple phrase I pictured her in my mind’s eye. And in calling her a firecracker, I knew she was impulsive and had an explosive temper.

Jesus called himself The Good Shepherd to show his tender care for us; the Cornerstone to show that he is the church’s true foundation; the Bread of Life and Living Water to show he is our source of daily life; and many other great metaphors such as the Lamb of God, True Vine, King of Kings, Light of the World, Lion of Judah, The Door, etc.

The longer I work as an editor, the more appreciate metaphors. And I’m not alone in this. The September 2017 edition of The Writer’s Digest carried a feature article on metaphors and declared: “The effective use of metaphors is a hallmark of writing that captivates.”

If you want to write in a style that captivates readers, that dazzles them with instant word pictures, don’t waste time on long descriptions. Find that perfect word. As the great poet Robert Frost once wrote, “An idea is a feat of association, and the height of it is a good metaphor.”

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