We use a lot of analogies and metaphors in the work we do through The Crucible Project. Men who have attended a Crucible Men’s Weekend confess that at times they’ve been confused by what is going on. Some experiences only make sense in light of later processes, and the weekend is rich in symbolism that has to be deciphered.
“Why be so indirect and mysterious?” I’ve been asked. “The Bible is straightforward; just teach it and men will be edified.”
Hold on to that thought.
Now shift gears and consider the painful questions that come up from men trying to make sense of abuse that happened to them as children. The most troubling cry I hear is, “Where was God when I was being abused?”
I could give them a theological answer—a theodicy that gets God off the hook by appealing to free will and the need for God to let his creatures experience consequences in the cause-and-effect universe he made governed by natural laws.
Or I could talk about God’s wings. Bear with me while we do a quick Bible study:
- In Exodus 20, God forbids “graven images”; yet just one chapter earlier he also told the nation of Israel “I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to myself” (Exodus 19:4). God describes his wings. And he seems to be saying, “My wings lead to freedom.“
- Psalm 91:4 says “He will cover you with His pinions, And under His wings you may seek refuge.” The psalmist also mentions God’s wings. And his point seems to be God’s wings offer safety.
- Jesus, the human-God, wept over Jerusalem, crying out, “How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matthew 23:37). According to the Savior, his wings are for nurture and connection.
But that’s all symbolic language—God doesn’t really have wings, right? But He doesn’t really have a right arm either. He doesn’t really “watch” us because that would imply He has eyes. He can’t really “hear” our prayers because He doesn’t have ears. Theologians call these traits “anthropomorphisms”— human-scale representations that only hint at what God is like.
Non-human pictures of God are especially useful to those who’ve been treated in non-human ways. When a parent violates a child, the term “father” is equivalent to abuser, and “Heavenly Father” is simply an infinitely bigger version of that. When incest rips away the innocence of a little child, arms and hands are scary; but wings might be safe. Children who survive swinging fists, raging tempers and unbridled lusts can’t take much comfort in a God who became an anatomically correct man. But when God in his Word gives us other pictures, they may mean more than the usual images we typically hear about.
My favorite wing verse is in Psalm 57. In that passage, the psalmist says, “My soul takes refuge in Thee; And in the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge until destruction passes by…He will send from heaven and save me….” I find this passage especially rich, because God is seen not to remove us from destruction, but to somehow protect us from the consequences of it as it “passes by”.
The abuse happens, but God gives us tools to survive; and then he leads us to a grace-filled community that can help us heal and grow beyond it.
The idea of God’s wings doesn’t answer every painful question about suffering. It doesn’t explain everything about our use of symbolism on Crucible weekends, either. But it shows us God’s creativity and sensitivity to our human condition. It illustrates his imaginative ways of getting around the painful pictures that would otherwise keep us from knowing him.
By Judson Poling
Judson met Greg Huston (The Crucible Project’s founder) in 2002 and staffed his first initial weekend the following spring. Judson is a founding board member of The Crucible Project and co-developer of The Crucible Project’s four second-level weekends. He also served on staff of Willow Creek Community Church for 29 years. Judson is now a best-selling author and President of Cambia Resources, LLC, doing consulting, coaching and freelance writing.