I was reminded of this while reading some of James McGrath’s recent discussions of theology and metaphor (e.g. here); here’s Hans Boersma, from Violence, Hospitality and the Cross: Reappropriating the Atonement Tradition:
Although there are indeed differences between what we call “literal” and “metaphorical” language, this does not mean that we can understand literal language as “more rational” and hence “more real” and therefore giving better descriptions of reality…. No matter how carefully we try to analyze and unwrap the meaning of the metaphor, we can never quite give a literal description that conveys the exact same sense as the metaphor. Just as an explanation of a piece of art can never quite capture the full richness of the artwork, so also every attempt to unpack the metaphor will be only partially successful….
Colin Gunton argues that because the world can be known only indirectly, metaphor is really “the most appropriate form that a duly humble and listening language should take. In all of this, there is a combination of openness and mystery, speech and silence, which makes the clarity and distinctness aimed at by the rationalist tradition positively hostile to truth.” (pgs. 102 and 105; citing The Actuality of Atonement: A Study of Metaphor, Rationality, and the Christian Tradition, pgs. 37-38)