Mocking God with Metaphor?

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas, Carravaggio, circa 1601

Caravaggio depicts Jesus taking Thomas’ hand and intentionally inserting his outstretched finger into His wounded side in response to Thomas’ own assertion in John 20:

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

To this, Jesus appeared to Thomas among the disciples and said: 

“Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

In that theme, John Updike’s early poem speaks to the fact that if Jesus rose – He rose as His body; we are encouraged therefore: “let us not mock God with metaphor.”

Seven Stanzas at Easter, by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

“In his twenties, a young Harvard graduate named John Updike (1932-2009) began worshipping with a Lutheran congregation in Marblehead, Massachusetts–finding there the religious community he remembered during his upbringing in rural Pennsylvania. Updike later remarked that these years were his “angst-besmogged period”. The congregation sponsored a “Religious Arts Festival” that offered a $100 prize to the festival’s best work–96 adults entered, including Updike who contributed this brief poem as his entry. He won. Updike gave the $100 prize back to the congregation.”

The poem reveals the fundamental truth that holds Christian faith together: the bodily resurrection of Christ. He appears before us “in the flesh as true, real evidence of the victory over death and sin. We mock God if we think anything less of it. It is not a day to be trivialized in reducing it to a happy ending. It is not a parable, a metaphor, a moment of rhetoric. As Christians the resurrection is key–the hope of eternal life has meaning only because of the terror of death.”

Comments on John Updike from “

About R.H. (Rusty) Foerger

As I enter the third third of life, I am becoming aware of the role of elders today “to enlarge spiritual vision, being devoted to prayer, living in the face of death, as a living curriculum of the Christian life” (Dr. James M. Houston). I am a life long and life wide learner who seeks to: *decipher the enigma of our worth *rescue from the agony of prayerlessness *integrate spiritual friendship.
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