Much of my work uses conceptual metaphor theory which holds that metaphors are primarily used to reason about topics, they are not merely rhetorical or flowery language. For example, when we say “Our relationship has come a long ways” we use our knowledge of what we experience on journeys to frame the way we understand a relationship between people. On journeys we have goals and a destination, we make choices about routes to take and sometimes encounter difficulties. In this metaphor we apply these aspects of journeys in order to think about relationships. So we think that our relationship has gone a great distance when we may have never literally left town. Figurative language is thinking of conceptual domain A in terms of another domain B. What difference does this make? Well, many theological disagreements are due to people using different source domains for topics such as sin or salvation.
Figurative language is regularly used to reason about pretty much every theological topic including God. A few biblical metaphors for God are father, mother, husband, friend, shepherd, rock, and hen. Each of these metaphors has inferences that tell us about features of God and how God relates to us. For instance, thinking of God as a spouse involves different ways of relating to God than understanding God as a shepherd and yourself as a sheep. People have developed different spiritual practices, in part, due to the use of different metaphors.