Poet of Heaven & Earth
His Thoughts Are Not Our Thoughts, Nor His Words
by David Lyle Jeffrey
My God, my God, thou art a direct God, may I not say a literal God, a God that would be understood literally and according to the plain sense of all that thou sayest? But thou art also (Lord, I intend it to thy glory, and let no profane misinterpreter abuse it to thy diminution), thou art a figurative, a metaphorical God too. . . ." So John Donne, poet and poetical preacher par excellence, addresses God in one of his intimate (yet published) Devotions. He does not mean in any way that "God" is a metaphor for something else; as is abundantly clear throughout his writings, for Donne the reality of God is the most utterly real thing in the universe. Rather, he is noticing something about God—the way God expresses himself in many parts of Scripture.
What he notices is that God often speaks in poetic language. This insight affects the way Donne prays. Does his prayerful address to God as supreme poet contain a theological or literary insight we, too, might usefully ponder? I think so.
Artist & Architect
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David Lyle Jeffrey is Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities at Baylor University and Guest Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Peking University. Among his recent books are Luke: A Theological Commentary (Brazos 2012) and In the Beauty of Holiness: Art & the Bible in Western Culture (Eerdmans, 2018). He is the grateful father of five children. This essay is extracted and modified from his forthcoming book with Baker Academic (2019), Scripture and the Poetic Imagination.
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