What Is Synecdoche?
Driving through Birmingham, I saw this billboard for a church. It said, “God is ONLY good.”
But when something bad happens, we can think God is mean. Or indifferent. Or at the very least, concerned but powerless to act.
I learned a new word last month: synecdoche (/səˈnekdəkē/). It is when we refer to a part of something as the whole.
- Down south, we say we want a “Coke” when we mean ANY carbonated drink.
- Or we say Atlanta won last night, meaning the Atlanta Braves’ baseball team won their game.
- Or we might say the world is out to get us because one person cut us off in traffic this morning.
When we ascribe too much to the whole, when it’s just a part, it can ruin our day.
And our faith.
Synecdoche also happens in our spiritual lives. If we expect Christians to be perfect, we can lose faith when a pastor has an affair. Or we can quit praying altogether if a sick child dies. Or we can lose hope when a tornado hits another poor neighborhood.
Maybe that’s why the billboard caught my eye again yesterday on my drive home from Morgan’s house: “God is ONLY good.”
I think God may be an exception to synecdoche. It is safe to credit complete goodness to him.
God is the only being that is consistent, whole, all.
It’s impossible to ascribe TOO much goodness to God.
If I get poison ivy, God is still good. If the trip I’d planned gets cancelled, God is still good. If someone that I love disappoints me, God is still good.
Circumstances change. My emotions change. People change. I can’t trust these parts to be a whole.
But God doesn’t change.
God is good consistently, not just occasionally. Completely good, not partially.
Only God is always good, and never bad.
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Seth Godin taught me the meaning of synecdoche on his podcast, Akimbo.
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