Saturday, February 4, 2012

Is Chrisanity a "Masculine" Relgion?

Author and speaker, Rachel Held Evans, asked men to respond to recent comments by John Piper regarding Christianity as being predominately a “masculine” religion.  These are my comments on a topic that has caused a bit of controversy in some theological circles.

First and foremost, it can be problematic for us to try and classify God in terms of human attributes.  When you get right down to it, God is neither male nor female, but is Spirit, existing outside of time and space and the physical constraints that we experience as human beings.  We cannot attribute a sexual identity to God any more than we can classify the Divine as a particular ethnic race or belong to a religious denomination.  In the same manner, neither sex is superior to the other, as no one race is dominant to another.  It has not been left open for us to delve into the complexities of understanding God’s identity as one would describe someone to another.  In the west we tend to categorize and classify in a distinctly empirical manner.  We strive to describe the unknown with concretely definable attributes, and whether consciously, subconsciously, or subliminally, we attempt to do this with God.  Therein lies the problem.  

However, the Bible gives plenty of insight to at how God chose to be revealed to humanity, and He does in fact describe Himself with male attributes.  Although some will debate that the "Spirit" is more feminine, we can clearly see that God presents Himself as a male figure.  However, it's important to note that just because God identifies Himself to us with male attributes, does not necessarily suggest that God is "male", so to speak.  There could be a number of reasons for this, and I don't feel that it is significant to this blog to go into them in great detail.  The point is, one or the other had to be chosen and God chose to describe Himself as male through His Word.  Does that diminish the female counterpart of creation?  Does this mean that "Christianity", by and of itself, is a "masculine" religion?
First and foremost, it's important to conclude that if God made man in His image (Genesis 1:27), part of the image would represent the female.  This would lead one to conclude that God possess female attributes equally as he does male.  The Bible is replete with imagery that represent God's male attributes, however when seeking illustrations that tend to lean in the feminine direction, the examples are somewhat harder to track down.  For the purposes here, I've chosen to site several passages that represent female attributes, as well as Biblical illustrations that show a more dominate female emphasis in general.     

First of all, God describes the Church as the "Bride of Christ" (Ephesians 5:2  This is the most significant argument against Christianity being classified as exclusively masculine, since this title is attributed to “the Church”.  The Church is also the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12) which is His representation until Christ's Second Coming.  The “Bride of Christ”, being classified as female, and the Body of Christ, being obviously male, would lead us to believe that both attributes are being completely represented in this image.  Through this, we see beautiful imagery of bride and groom being joined together as one and the "two become one flesh", leaving the sex as a secondary factor. (Genesis 2:24)  Is it therefore possible that part of the marriage union is for each of God's sexual attribute to better understand the other?  Either way, one cannot escape the overwhelming feminine identification of the Church being a bride.
Another interesting reference comes in Matthew 23:37, in which we find Jesus unashamedly identifying and expressing a motherly instinct to God's children when He says, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem. . . ! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings. . . !")  God chose to use the comforting, nurturing and compassionate aspects of a mother to illustrate His children being drawn to redemption through His Son Jesus Christ.  We also see illusions of this in Luke 15:8-10, and the Parable of the Lost Coin. Jesus uses the image of a woman, quite possibly a mother, who diligently sweeps her home in hopes of finding a single lost silver coin.  In the same way, God Himself searches the entire creation in search of one sinner that repents and finds the Kingdom of God. 
Looking at the Book of Isaiah, God clearly identifies Himself as a mother.  In vivid illustrations of a woman giving birth to, lovingly caring for and nursing her newborn baby, God reveals Himself in an exclusively female anthropomorphism.  In Isaiah 42:14 God speaks powerfully through Isaiah saying, “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.”, and again in Isaiah 46:3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.”  After childbirth, the mother compassionately cradles her baby and provides vital nourishment as in Isaiah 49:15 - “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?  Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”  Could these illustrations reveal comforting and nurturing attributes that only can come from the female character?  I think we all can agree that “As a mother comforts her child,  so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 66:13)

Another similar illustration is found in Psalm 131:2 – “But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.” In this verse, we see the Psalmist finding calm and rest as he takes comfort in God, as a child becomes independent and secure in its mother’s provision.

In Proverbs 4:7, we read that “Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.” This same “wisdom” that is considered precious and priceless is also identified as a female in the same chapter and perceived as a “protector”, “exalter” and one that will honor us when we cherish her as the supreme gift that she is.  Here the author purposely uses the Hebrew feminine noun חָכְמָה (chokmah) for wisdom.  Wisdom is the woman that calls out to us in Proverbs 8 and 9, urging us to choose her ways, love her and fear God, her creator.  With almost Christological imagery, she reveals to us that she is the first of God’s creation and had an essential part of creating all that came after her and all that we see.  As a mother gives birth to life, this causes one to ponder the idea that wisdom may be looked upon as a mother as well, possibly with connections to the references in Isaiah.  

As stated early, let’s keep at the forefront of our minds that God’s sexual identity is really irrelevant in terms our spirituality and in the Kingdom of God as a whole.  In the essence of the Kingdom, there is no male or female, only citizens.  (Galatians 3:28)  the In Exodus 3:14, when Moses asked the name of God, He simply responded, “I AM WHO I AM.” Granted, the Hebrew הָיָה הָיָה (hayah hayah) translates as  masculine, but I don’t think that was the point that God was trying to make.  Rather it’s if the question was irrelevant in the first place, and if He could be identified in terms of human understanding, the mere name would not shed anymore light than before.  Instead, God revealed Himself to Moses as a burning bush, something with very little human identification.  When God showed Himself to Moses in Exodus 33, it was not as if a giant man passed by the rock in which Moses was hidden, only revealing His backside.  Rather it was a more likely a manifestation that was not at all comprehensive to the human mind.  Moses saw the glory of God:  Man.  Woman. Child.  Adult.  Mother.  Father.  Sister.  Brother.  Baptist. Catholic.  American.  African.  He is who He is. 
“Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity.... Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?
Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable.” 

 C.S. Lewis

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