While we often use the word “metaphor” when we talk about sacred text, a more accurate word is “mythos.” (We could also talk about “midrash”, but let’s leave that one for the preacher crowd for now.)
The problem is that we’re used to lumping mythos into the fiction category, as “mythology.” It brings to mind Odin and Thor, Apollo and Aphrodite.
Mythos, however, does more than entertain. It uses story to tell us things about ourselves, our world, and our Creator. Which is why it’s so difficult for us to simply give up the imagery that has informed our faith for so long. We feel the power of what the stories in the New Testament are telling us about our place in Creation, even as we reject the literalist interpretation of those stories.
Karen Armstrong and others use the term to highlight the difference between the kind of “Truth” that simply explains the mechanics of the universe, and the kind that helps to point our consciousness beyond the material.
In the same way, when we read the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we have to understand that, while they can be read like “history”, their power to move us on our spiritual journey lies in their interpretation as mythos.
There are times when I read Scripture as though it were no more complicated than the telling of a story about a wedding I was at, or a party I attended, or the time a friend got the best of a self-styled “expert.” That’s because, as a human being, there are times when I need to be able to relate to Theos – to God – in a human way.
There are times when the articles I write on Seems Like God are written the same way.
But it doesn’t matter in the least whether Jesus ever existed exactly as depicted in the New Testament. It doesn’t matter if there was ever a wedding at Cana, or dinner with a tax collector, or an incident where a Pharisee was forced to admit that a Samaritan could be his “neighbor.”
What matters is that, through the mythos of those stories, our agapé relationship with Creation is enriched.
For some additional thoughts on the place of mythos in our spiritual journey, you may be interested in the accompanying podcast –