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  1. December 26, 2012 1:16 pm

    As you suggest, I think that Christianity faces a special challenge in thinking of a god that transcends gender. The central story of the conception of Jesus in a human mother portrays the first person as biologically male (and that is stressed in the New Testament when Jesus calls out “Abba”; the second person, Jesus, of course is also biologically male. The third person of the Godhead represents a greater opportunity for thinking about a feminine being (in the way, perhaps, that Judaism considers the Shechina to be feminine) that creates a pretty weird dynamic (portraying the Trinity potentially as a 1950’s style nuclear family).

    That being said, I think it is worth the effort to try to break free of the shackles of gender-identity in thinking about the godhead, to escape the trap of anthropomorphism.

  2. December 27, 2012 8:17 am

    Theophrastus, Thanks for your comment.

    And let’s suggest as clearly that Judaism’s challenge in thinking of a god that transcends gender is nearly as special. The trinitarian conceptions (whether hierarchical in a patriarchal way or more Athenasian) cannot discount the issues that the explicit image of God as Father in the Hebrew scriptures have caused. There aren’t just a few – Psalm 68:5; Psalm 89:26; Isaiah 63:16; Isaiah 64:8; Jeremiah 3:19; and Malachi 2:10. Granted that the Jewish feminist voices seem to have been more silenced and more marginalized in various context than the voices of Christian feminists have.

    Thus, a Rita M. Gross, writing toward the “Female God Language in a Jewish Context,” will acknowledge but work well beyond a Mary Daly.and her Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’ s Liberation. Nonetheless, some of Judaism’s families have unfortunately unique contexts that require theologizing that recovers language for God that is not gendered as “Father”; for instance, Melissa Raphael finds herself needing to write of “A Mother/God in Auschwitz” in her book The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust. Not a few Jewish writers have theologized God in gendered terms against the singular patriarchal notion of “Father.” For instance, Paula Reimers writes a much quoted essay “Feminism, Judaism, and God the Mother”; Bonna Devora Haberman grapples with “Difficult Texts”; Susannah Heschel writes On Being a Jewish Feminist; Judith Plaskow writes of Standing Again at Sinai: Judaism from a Feminist Perspective; and Rachel Adler, “calling for women’s full participation [in] transform[ing] Jewish law, prayer, sexuality, and marriage,” writes Engendering Judaism: An Inclusive Theology and Ethics. Matthew Berke in “God and Gender in Judaism” announces how the “new [1996] High Holy Day prayerbook, Gates of Repentance” reworks the “Avinu Malkeinu prayer” as Avinu Imeinu and in some places “Avinu (Our Father) gives way in translation to ‘Source,’ ‘Our Maker,’ ‘Our Creator,’ or ‘Our Parent’.” He notes that “an alternative prayer is offered to the Shekhinah, the divine spirit, which is traditionally regarded as feminine…. [and that there’s] outright feminization: the Shekhinahis invoked as a “Mothering Presence” and “Mother present in all”; [and] a blessing begins, Barucha At . . . Blessed are you (feminine) instead of the traditional Baruch Atah (masculine).” And, as we’ve discussed here at this blog, there are various feminist and woman and feminine language Haggadot.

    As my post suggests, this is not just a blogger’s or a theologian’s or a clergy person’s or a rabbi’s concern. The language of God in the Bible, in the religious traditions of Judaism and of Christianity, affects how people in families live. The familial language of God, especially of Father, can be taken different ways. Granted academia and here in the blogosphere is where we can sometimes more freely and sometimes even more safely discuss the issues. I’m grateful for essays and books such as “God’s Gender: A Traditionalist View” and The Voice of Sarah: Feminine Spirituality and Traditional Judaism by Tamar Frankiel, now the Provost and a Professor of Comparative Religion at the Academy for Jewish Religion, in LA. She researches, teaches, and writes as a married mother of five children. Such personal contexts can be very important.

  3. December 27, 2012 8:36 am

    Please let me stress the last point I was trying to make (and perhaps was the primary intention of my post here in the first place). Families are affected by gendered language for God and all of its myriad alternatives.

    For blogger / Christian theology student, this is important. In a recent post, she’s written:

    Yesterday, one of my closest friends asked me quite directly why I continue to care about what very conservative parts of evangelicalism have to say about women and gender roles. My friend wonders why I continue to read certain blogs and leading male evangelical figures who constantly offer a patriarchal understanding of the relationship between men and women within the family unit, the Church, and society at large.

    And for theologian James Torrance this is also important. This husband and father, in the lecture/ chapter I quoted from above, writes:

    The Son of God, in assuming our humanity, became a man, not to sanctify maleness, but our common humanity so that, be we men or women, we can see the dignity and beauty of our humanity sanctified in him.

    Furthermore, so many women have been used, abused, discarded, hurt, divorced, exploited economically and sexually by men down through the centuries, that there is a rising tide of resentment, anger, bitterness and even hatred of men, with a legitimate demand for justice and equality. So many women have had unfortunate experiences in their own homes that the word “father” conjures up ugly images. So often, tragically, the only dad some children know is an alcoholic or one who has abused his wife and family. This makes it all the more important that we allow Jesus Christ to interpret true fatherhood for us, both human and divine.

  4. December 27, 2012 1:11 pm

    There is a pervasive and governing image in the Bible of God as husband, and of Israel as bride. Rashi is clearly aware of it in his interpretation of the lilies (see the Song and Psalm inscriptions) as students of Torah. Father and son, like husband, are clearly metaphorical. It’s a double wedding: Father marries Israel, Son marries Church. But both are clearly one since it is Zion, the holy city, Jerusalem, that carries the image of bride. Father does not marry son; father loves son and gives all things into his hands. That love is expressed as Spirit. God is Spirit. Worship is in spirit and in truth. Truth is painful – bloody per the image of Zippora as Moses wife. Israel is married to Torah – and released and remarried through the death of Torah incarnate (Romans 7). That God seeks such to worship him is a placing of Spirit in time. This is itself incarnation.

    Under all this is the theme of obedience – the obedience of faith (Habakkuk, Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews). He is your Lord (Psalm 45). In some sense that is paradoxical since such obedience is neither slavery nor a submission to a domineering power. It is instead a release into dialogue and interaction, an interaction that sees God learning. Who is this that comes up from the desert, leaning on her beloved? (8:4) Who is this, looking forth as dawn, beautiful as the moon, pure as the sun, terrible as those of great intensity? (6:10).

    Who do people say that I am? may reflect these questions. Do the people fast when the bridegroom is with them?

    Given the sin of humanity, the second Adam, who is actually primal – for the one who comes after was before), the second Adam completes the betrothal. Who is it that is complete? The answer – extensive and endlessly generative of further questions – is in the story of the Psalter of which I have written in my own intense way these past 7 years. (E.g. Psalm 7, the invitation to be judged ‘for the completeness that is in me’, Psalm 15:2 הֹולֵךְ תָּמִים, a phrase expanded on in Psalm 18:20-37, the first time that complete is used as a frame in the Psalms). Note how ‘Torah is complete’ (Ps 19:8) and it’s mirrored use in 19:14 – then ‘I will be complete’. Note the completeness of Psalm 26 reflecting Psalm 1, the lament of Psalm 38 – framed by lack of completeness and so on.

    So Kurk – much as I concur with the egalitarian view, there is, through this imagery, a serious set of problematic paradoxes. But the imagery will stand a great deal of tension and intensity. These images reveal and capture and include all our gendered being. They will not support coercion without tenderness, or self-seeking without self-giving, or violence without also absorbing the same. They are all demanding yet all submitting. All powers eventually bow the knee (another metaphor) in adoration (the image of the Magi). Metaphor carries reality and is itself incarnated in the one who receives its tenor. (I always knew there was possibility in being a tenor).

    All joy for those who are the complete of the way (Psalm 119:1).

  5. December 27, 2012 1:15 pm

    long comments are tough – insert opening parenthesis somewhere. change it’s to its!

  6. December 27, 2012 2:42 pm

    Thanks for your comments, Bob, the long and the short.

    You are right that “husband” metaphors for God can be very difficult. You seem to have read Victoria’s post here – “The Bride of Christ: a feminist reading” – and I know you’ve read at least a few paragraphs of Sister Carolyn Osiek’s article – “The Bride of Christ : a problematic wedding – Ephesians 5:22-33” – where she gets at the difficulties (because you commented so long ago on a post I wrote so long ago in which I provide some quotations from her article: ) Dr. Osiek, at the end of her essay, writes this:

    In the Second Testament, 1 Peter 2:18-25 does something very similar to Ephesians 5:21-33 in that it holds up the unjust suffering of slaves as a mirror of the suffering of Christ, and enjoins slaves therefore to submit even to cruel masters. We have long ago rejected that comparison as illegitimate. It is time to acknowledge the same dangers in the wedding of the bride of Christ.

    Similarly, James B. Torrance, in the lecture/ chapter I quote from above also says this:

    In the first epistle of Peter we read: “Slaves, submit to your masters . . . ” (2:18). Further on we read: “Wives, in the same way, be submissive to your husbands” (3:1) It took the church over eighteen hundred years to get rid of slavery, to recognize the significance of that other text that in Christ there is neither slave nor free. It is apparently taking two thousand years to recognize that in Christ there is neither male nor female and to give women their full equality with men. To understand what it means to be in the image of God, we must look at Jesus Christ, not at fallen humanity.

    What is interesting to me is how Torrance and how Kait Dugan’s blogger friend “Mel” get theologizers using the “Father” image of God to look to Jesus’s own conception. The latter says –

    “Whether we find we can use the language of ‘Father’ for God or not, we can acknowledge that Jesus used such language and that the language we use and its resonance in our bodies is to set our lives in the trajectory of his life, both in how we know and love ourselves and in how we know and love one another.”

    The “our Father” that the gospel writers have Yeshua appropriating from the Psalmist and the Prophets is quite particularly “in the heavens.” In the metaphorical sense, He lifts his children “on the earth” up. And, in Jesus’s parables, the sort of earthbound father they often depict (as in the prodigal son) is quite human anyway, if counter to the patriarchical sexist abusive sorts of dads some of us here have had.

  7. December 28, 2012 1:25 pm

    Yes Kurk, I have read in this area of human reasoning about itself. I am opposed to any demeaning of a human based on any policy, religious or historical. I have been raised as a white Anglo-Saxon male, and have therefore not escaped being raised with prejudice, and worse – those unstated assumptions that prevent seeing one’s prejudice. But God, who is rich in mercy, knows how to enable repentance, how to expose assumption, and how to usurp authority. No descriptive words can in fact do what God does with that creating and usurping word that never goes forth without returning fruitful. What is this humanity that such a visitation is effected! (Psalms 8 and 144)


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