Sunday, August 18, 2013

Female Metaphors for God can appear Deviant


"In spite of the multitude of designations for divine mystery in the Bible and later, lesser-known sources, prevailing Christian language names God solely with male designations, causing the rest to be forgotten or marginalized. Thus speech about God in female metaphors or in images taken from the natural world lies fallow, and can even appear deviant. To get one outstanding example, liturgical prayer is directed to the Father, through the Son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with even the later being masculinized through the use of grammatically male pronouns.


In spite of ample testimony in the Scriptures and later tradition that the mystery of God is beyond all human comprehension, the exclusively male symbol of God is spoken n an uncritically literal way. Such speech signifies, if not in explicit theory at least effectively in the subliminal power of the imagination, that maleness is an essential character of divine being. We have forgotten what was clear to early Christian thinkers, namely, that Father and Son are names that designate relationships rather than an essence in itself, and that as applied to God they, like all human finite names, are subject to the negation of the rule analogy. It is true that sophisticated thinkers deny that the maleness of the symbol of God is meant to be taken literally, for divine being transcends sexual bodiliness. Yet the literal association of God with maleness perdures even in highly abstract discussions, as exemplified in the statement, "God is not male; He is spirit."

~Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse

Painting by Elisabeth Slettnes

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