God and Gender, Take 2

Ben’s comment on my previous post demands, I think, more than a comment reply. Here’s his comment:

I would have to disagrew with you hear Jamie.  I would argue that God is fully gender/sexual.  That the essence of masculanity and feminity is derived from God.  God has come to identify himself the analogy of being a Father.  Which really does capitilize on the masculine side of it.  And yes Jesus does have a penis between those legs, and those obviously physically male.  However both Father, Son, & Spirit in their action possessed qualities of the feminine.

Gender/sexuality is a very major component of our identity.  If God is not a sexual/gender being then we really do have a hard time relating to Him.  It might really do some fuddling to what the Imago Dei might mean.

For an interesting discussion on this from a conservative point see this article.

A disclaimer, then a couple of observations:

Disclaimer: My exploration of theology has been a self-studying endeavor. I don’t have the benefit of a formal theological education, and I’m not foolish enough to think that I have all the answers. As I said in my original post, this is my opinion, based on my reading of Scripture and theology. On to the pontificating!

1. We cannot say “God is fully gender[ed?]/sexual” without qualification. The article you referred to says, after all: “Therefore God is neither male nor female, but nor is God radically a-sexual either. We should understand God’s sexuality as transcending but embracing (and not negating) the personal and relational aspects of sexuality. It is the intimate, personal relationship of the Trinity which is reflected in the imago dei.” (p. 3) Further, Edgar argues that we must not see the terms ‘Father’ and ‘Son’ as gendered and in need of a feminine balancing term (7). He does, however, consider those terms essential because they are terms that Jesus used.

That said, I am not arguing for a wooden interpretation of those terms as we understand them. After all, a certain amount of contextualization is necessary so we can relate to God. I do not think, however, that we must refer to God alternately as Father and Mother in order that both men and women can relate to him. While some of our God-language is conventional/traditional, that fact alone doesn’t mean we throw out the baby with the bathwater.

2. Saying “God has come to identify himself as Father” might be a little dangerous. I’m not saying it is, in your case, but some might argue that language smacks of process theism. I cannot presume to think the thoughts of God, but since I believe the specific revelation of Jesus and Scripture is complete, I don’t think we’ll get a new revelation of God as Mother. If we go that direction, do we then speak of Jesus as “Daughter of God” or “Daughter of Humanity”? Seems to me it’s a slippery slope.

3. “If God is not a sexual/gender being then we really do have a hard time relating to Him.” Again, I’m not arguing that masculinity and femininity do not derive from God’s nature, nor am I trying to fuddle with the imago dei. God is not gendered or sexual in the sense we understand, since from our perspective gender/sexuality is intimately connected (no pun intended) to sex and reproduction, neither of which God “does.”

I recognize the “mother/feminine” qualities of the Trinity (the mother hen, the woman in the lost coin story). I do not think, however, (and I think Dr. Edgar agrees with me) that adding the epithet ‘mother’ to Jesus (who, in any case, never calls himself father) accomplishes anything positive and has a number of negative effects, including the suggestion that Scripture might not be sufficient. I think it arises from confusing ‘qualities’ with ‘attributes’.

4. For the record, I think it is just as wrong to take the Fatherhood of God to the other extreme and demean, debase, abuse, or otherwise destroy women. My wife will tell you, I’m high on women. She’s smarter than me, and a lot better-looking than I deserve, and in her mothering of our sons, I see over and over again the motherly qualities of God at work.

Thanks for the dialogue. I’m sure this won’t be the end. 🙂

(By the way, Ben, I think it’s interesting that the author of the article you mentioned is a member of the Uniting Church of Australia, which is neck-deep in an ECUSA-style split over the ordination of homosexuals. I don’t know much about him, but I’m guessing since he taught at Asbury last year that you took a class with him?)


6 thoughts on “God and Gender, Take 2”

  1. Hey Jamie thanks for the reply. I was a little rushed writing it this morning (thus the typos). And I was lucky enough to have Bryan as one of my profs in 2005 when he was a visiting professor. He is one of the top scholars in the field of theological anthropology and a conservative to boot. Which is really quite nice. Wonderful gentleman. And I threw Bryan into the mix because he possesses a slightly different view than me and I thought he would provide good ground for us to discuss this on.

    #1 Reply: I would agree that we do not need to see when God is identified in male language a need to balance it with the feminine. Nor when it occurs in Scripture vice versa. And to refer to God with the primary term of Father is traditional, dare I say authorative. However when God functions in feminine qualities such as in many functions of the Spirit, then well I have no problem calling him Holy Mother. Use of the gender analogy is something well documented throughout the history of the church. Whether it be from the Syrian churches to Anselm and onwards. However I do think the feminist and womanist theologians are a tid bit off their rockers with alot of what they say in regards to this.

    Reply #2b: Using the word come is a bit dangerous. God has elected in points in time, particularly as recorded in Scripture & particularly more so in the words of Christ, to reveal Himself as Father. In a sense, as seen in Scripture, God has revealed himself gradually throughout time. The greatest and most powerful manifestation of all time in the person of Jesus.

    Reply #2b: Jamie wrote: If we go that direction, do we then speak of Jesus as “Daughter of God” or “Daughter of Humanity”? Seems to me it’s a slippery slope. If those were not techinical designations then it would be a good argument. However the language is explicitly given to evoke a particular identity. Son of God in most cases identifies a male (not female) Hebrew as living a righteous life and favor of God. In most cases it really does help to support Jesus as fully human living a good life. Son of Man evokes a specific identity drawn from visions of Daniel and numerous intertestamental literature. This individual who is seen as a male is given divine qualities, appearing at times as an extension of Divinity or as a Metatron. Anyhow what I am getting at is both terms are lacking because of their essential identity can not be seperated from the masculine. Except possibility the Son of Man with the individual appearing in the likeness of a man.

    Reply #3: Bryan probrably would agree with you. However on a different note I would probrably place less of an emphasis on the importance of Scripture as you do. I will come out an admit I do not believe in our support Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) or the infalliability of it. However on a different note I do support it as inerrant (without error in all that it testifies concerning divinity and that which relates to it). Feel free to read my views on Scripture on my blog and why I do believe it to be authorative just how protestants have gotten it wrong.

    It is interesting that you use the analogy of sex as a counter argument. I would argue that the act of sex is participating in the act of creation. God creates in and via himself. Just as man and woman creates in themselves. The act of sex between husband and wife testifies of the act of creation in the Trinity.

    On the issue of qualities and attributes, well with God he is quite a blur anyhow and often the two are mingled and hard to be distinguished. Kind of reminds of the perichorisis (sp?) or commonly called the Divine Dance. Sometimes when we approach God we see him as One but other times we see him as Three.

    You pointed to seeing God in your wife in her feminity. Which I am sure also she sees God when you act as a father (masculinity). Both of which is beauty and points to him who is Beauty. The main idea I am trying to get across that both forms of gender find their core in God. God is not one or the other. He transcends what it means to be each gender. Our masculanity points to God. The ladies feminity points to God. The interaction of gender helps to testify to God as relational. Gender places an intricate part to our identity as relational beings.

  2. It’s an interesting argument. I think the perichoresis argument holds much weight and simply put, I would take the road that points to God being perfect divine relationship among divine persons, regardless of gender as we understand it. God is love. And that’ll preach in the Church, as it were. And teach. It’s a little ridiculous to conjecture on the gender of God, except to argue that both men and women (they/them) are made in the tselem and demuth of God, his image and likeness being revealed and restored in both. That’s good news, no (if I might be so bolds as to inject the agenda of the local church as a context and lob a little of the pastoral into the academic campfire)?

  3. I lost a longish comment on your comments, so I’ll have to type more later. Let me sum up my response to you, Ben, by saying thanks. We’ll have to agree to disagree on some of these points. Consensus would be impossible given your lower view of Scripture and the couple of, let’s say, frontier ideas you’ve espoused (Holy Spirit as She, Metatron [did you read the Wiki you linked?], etc.). I do wonder, though, if you believe Scripture is inerrant in what it reveals about divinity, how you can depart so singularly from that revelation.

    I had to look up perichoresis (and circumincession) to get an idea of what you two were saying. I affirm that ‘dance’ of personhood in the Trinity. I’ll agree with Seth, too, that the good news is that we are created in God’s image. It’s easy to be blinded by ideas about God when God himself is staring us in the face, and to ignore the deep need of people to know him and be known by him.

    Anyway, thanks to both of you.

  4. Hey guys thanks for the feedback. On the Metatron thin, yeah I think it is so weird. But hey some people have associated it at times with the Son of Man. Then again everytime I hear Metatron I always think of the movie Dogma. But yeah the idea of the Metatron is ridicolous. I only listed it to help discuss different views on the Son of Man. Interestin the metatron is nearly always seen in the male form.

    Totally disagreement and agreement are wonderful things. If that didn’t happen then we wouldn’t have the friction we need in the Christian faith to discuss and grow. And not that any of us are Heretics (or atleast I hope I am not and I trust you are not either) but heretics have done much to help the Church formulate her beliefs and think on issues. If it wasn’t for Arian, Nestor, and other cats like that well we would probrably not have committed ourselves to the understanding of Christ we have now. Tension is great! It helps us to grow.

    I have no problem expressing the Holy Spirit as a She because there is a long, long history of it in the church. I tend to use the pronoun He to refer the Spirit because that is what I am use to. But like Anselm, the desert Fathers, mystics and so many more in the Church; well I am glad to join in using a female pronoun in describing the Spirit when he/she is participating in a work a function traditional associated with the feminine. But yeah the Spirit doesn’t have a body and in the Godhead transcends gender. So I am not like a feminist in describing the Spirit as She. However I am glad to recognize that God functions in the role as Mother & Father. Though I do cringe a bit when someobody prayers an invocation like my Holy Mother. I do prefer the male language, but I am glad to see the beauty of the woman in God also.

    On the Scripture side of things. I do believe words represent meaning/concepts. What the Scripture contain is the witness of God throughout history to the purest form that we have in our possession. As such it trully radiates divinity. It is a holy and sacred object. The Scripture represents and bears witness to the Story of Salvation (which is still going on!). Now I am different in that I go with the Catholics in saying that the Scripture is inerrant but not infalliable. Inerrancy deals with data. Stuff that is contained, non-personal. Infalliability relates to the ability to teach and instruct, very personal tasks. The Scripture is not a person though. The Spirit, whom is person, may choose to speak through the Scriptures to use. The Spirit is falliable in all that he may instruct. I may teach myself also by processing the data and comprehending it. I also believe that the Scripture is without any error in all that it contains in bearing witness to Divinity and all that relates to it.

    So with the thing on Scripture I believe there needs to be an instructor and God has ordained himself (his Spirit) and the Church (enabled by His Spirit) to be this. The Church and God brings himself to the discussion. They bear witness with their stories. THe church use her sotry (tradition!) to discuss it. Anyhow in both views it may not be trully innovative just a small return to elements of Catholicism. Hence I do believe that Scripture, whom was collected and formed into a Canon by the Church, stands with the Church and not alone (hence no Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura). Likewise the people of God fall down when they do not stay true to the Story/Witness of God contained in the Scriptures (which is happening in the ECUSA, Disciples of Christ, etc.). The Church must stand in the Scriptures. The Scriptures must stand in the Church.

    And yes Scripture guides us to coming into the presence of God who is the revealer of revelation. (Ok maybe I am a little bit like Karl Barth.) Which is one of the main reasons why I believe and practice Set Hours (where you pray at certain times and take a moment to refect on Scripture).

    And you guys hit on the head with the beauty of knowing of knowing we are created in God’s image. It is wonderful and a powerful truth. It is truth that makes you want to jump up and down and maybe even run a lap around the Swails Center. (or well if we were still studnets at EC)

    Now I always get you 2 guys confused. Jamie you are the one who was the campus pastor at EC for a year right? And Seth you are othe one who is into media stuff or music or something like that? And which one of you went to Wheaton?

  5. I think we’d agree on more if we were talking face-to-face. The essentially linear nature of blog-comment-reply (like a turn-based strategy game) makes for a clunky conversation. I’m not so great at it.

    I’ll fix the link.

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