26.6.07

is God male?

short answer: no

a couple of posts ago I raised a discussion that I previously had with ugleyvicar on fulcrum. the gist of the discussion is whether God is male - something which I have suggested is ridiculous, which drew one commenter to say that this language was unbecoming for an Open Evangelical

so, what does it mean, then, to say that God is male?

if God is male, then female is either:

a) from within God and therefore less than male, which would be the 'norm' in this case.

or

b) created from something that is outside God's knowledge.

in light of this, I suggest that 'ridiculous' is the kindest thing that I can say about this type of theology.

'utterly heretical and misogynistic' would be my next line of defence.

other reasons why this type of theology is ridiculous:

c) ugleyvicar suggests that God is male and his 'maleness' is perceived because of the 'femaleness' of Creation, which, to my mind, makes Creation necessary to God's definition, which is, well, ridiculous.
d) Genesis 1:27 suggests that Female as well as Male, is made in God's image, thus suggesting to me that Female is made in God's image (see, I do believe in the perspicuity of Scripture)

just for the record, my reaction to this suggestion has nothing to do with being Open or Conservative, anyone saying this would extract the same reaction from me regardless of their affiliations.

14 comments:

Dave Williams said...

Jody,

There are a couple of seperate questions here. The first one is around the logic, rationality etc of what John is arguing. The logic seems to work -therefore the "ridiculous" tag is completely misplaced. I think that what you want to say is that you disagree with him and fear that the logical outowrking of his argument will lead to something that you will personally find morally repugnant.

There is a seperate question about whether other serious theologians and orthodox theologians would go along with him. That depends on whether you or me have understood him correctly.

Then there is the final question is he right. And that breaks down into two seperate elements -is he right in content-and is the language used helpful.

This then is the critical point. I think it would be helpful to work things through from the general to the specific.

The orthodox position is that God is self existant and not dependent upon others for his being. I tend to assume that John affirms this. However does that mean that we only ever define God in terms of himself and his relationships within the Trinity. What does it mean for God to reveal himself as Creator and Saviour. Weren't these always aspects of his character if he is unchanging? But if we then say that God must only be defined in terms of the Trinity then that means the Father Creates and saves the Son and the Spirit -which is heresey! So we realise that defining God by his own choice involves relating him to his creation! This doesn't make God dependent upon his creation it simply shows that there are aspects of his character that are demonstrated in relation to us not within himself. If we believe God to have exhaustive foreknowledge -then there was never a time when he didn't relate to his creation!

How does God relate to his Creation. Well he is other to it! Is that best described in terms of male/female? Well the problem comes if we read that to mean God has human male qualities and see it in terms of gender. Male may not be the right word CS Lewis talked about masculine rather than male at this point. (see That Hideous Strength). However God defines himself as "He" and as the husband to the Church and to Israel.

Is John right to extend that feminine/wifely aspect to all creation. I've not really thought this through yet but I'm wondering...if the Church represents New Creation. If we are restored humanity then are we intended to fulfil the purposes of original creation? If so, then it might be right to apply the husband/wife relationship backwards.

jody said...

I would still want to reiterate the self-sufficiency of the Trinity in all definition of God.

I guess this is why I would say 'ridiculous' because, in Christian theology, I expect this to be a 'given'. It is obviously not in John's theology.

not that theology is 'safe', as John rightly says, when I am thinking creatively I allow myself space to think to the edges of the boundaries, but I would stop at reductionist ideas of the Trinity.

I would prefer to define God's relationship towards his Creation in terms of Love. Within God Himself is an anticipation of the Love of the 'other'.John (and you?) would wish to make it a 'male/female' thing. I make it a 'love' thing - within the Godhead the Father loves the Son, who is distinct from the Father, whilst this is not 'otherness' (God is God), I would suggest that it is a natural progression of this amazing love to Create an Other and love that Other fully and completely.

The 'Other' however is not necessary to define God at all. God is Love - definitive statement.

dave williams said...

Jody,

I don't think that John is denying the self sufficiency of the Trinity -and I certainly am not but I'm sure he can answer for himself.

I notice you haven't responded to my very critical points -Is God Creator? Is God Saviour.

It is very clear now that what you meant by "ridiculous" was not "ridiculous" so why resort to such purjorative language, it simply increases the volume and the heat and reduces the light -the very things that I though Open Evangelicals want to avoid!

jody said...

okay, with regards the critique of God's unchanging character and us being able to name him Saviour and Creator - I guess I thought that I was answering this within my last comment.

These characteristics come out of being able to say that God is Love - the anticipation of the Love for the other (Creation) and therefore the saving of the other (Salvation), is all found within the Godhead in the character of God's Love.

It is his love which makes him Creator and Saviour - but this does not mean that the action of Creation and the Saving of Creation is eternal.

I use strong language (if ridiculous can be named 'strong') because it needs strong language to knock this one on the head.

The idea that God is male is, to me, at fault for a number of evils among humankind today. I had hoped that academic Christian theology had moved on from this notion, but perhaps it hasn't.

With regards Open Evangelicalism - don't equate peacableness with silence. Sometimes we need to use language to raise awareness of the shocking nature of the notion against which it is used.

If I was fighting slavery I would happily call the notion that one set of human beings were lower than another 'ridiculous'.

but I guess that in the heads of most people today God is still a big white man.

dave williams said...

Jody,

1. You will note that I did not say that the action of creating and of saving is eternal.

2. It is okay to use strong language. All that I ask is that you use true language. To say that John's approach is ridiculous is as I have explained a wrong label.

Can I ask that before a conversation is continued you try turning down the heat and the volume and refrain from misrepresenting others comments.

jody said...

okay Dave

1. it is true that you did not say that the saving and creating action was eternal, in fact I didn't say that you did, it was simply the logical outworking of the notion that God as Creator and Saviour is an eternal quality (to be Creator and Saviour there must be something that is being Created or Saved) - you suggest that God as Creator and Saviour were always part of God's character because he is unchanging and as such suggest it is viable to attribute definition of God's character to his Creation: hence God is Male and Creation is Female.

I am saying that to say God is Creator and God is Saviour is not the same as saying that God is Love. That God is Love means that we can anticipate God's outpouring of Love in Creation and Salvation. But in this understanding of God as Creator and Saviour the acts of Creation and Salvation do not need to be as eternal as God's character.

If you attribute anything about God's character definition to Creation, then you make the Creation act as eternal as God's character. It was a logical outworking of what you were saying.

As I suggested all along it is better to say that God is Love, and work from there.

2. As I said before if I was rebuking the concept of slavery on the basis that one set of people were less than another set of people I would be happy to use the term 'ridiculous' - no matter how 'logically' it had all been worked out.

3. I don't think that I am shouting - I think my response to you has been a logical working through of what is being said.

I find this thesis repugnant on all levels, just as if someone was trying to prove that God was white. I think it is something that should not be on the agenda. However it is very much on the agenda if CEs are attempting a working thesis on this - and I will not be silent about it.

Alan Sharp said...

I don't know whether the system will take this because I haven't registered!
My comment was I wondered how people react to the fact that a lot of Black British and African-American people would see God as Black. This parallels stuff like 'The Christ we serve' produced by CMS.
I think one issue is white acceptance of a 'colour-blind' approach. When I asked a Black British representative of TEAR Fund what he thought of 'colour-blind' he said, 'When I look at the sky it's blue, when I look at the grass it's green, the sun is yellow....' An 'everything is grey' or 'everything is white' approach may be a white English approach but it is not an approach followed by the majority of people.
Another concern can be that white = good and black = bad. Or perhaps male = good and female = bad. An investigation of Bible language shows no such belief.

1. There is nothing in the Bible that says that God is white. So why do people think of God that way?
2. God is a Spirit so cannot ultimately be understood as male. So why do people insist He is male? God may mention 'Father' but I believe God reveals God in ways that people can understand.
3. The thinking of oppressed people has been largely influenced by the actions of their oppressors. White supremacy has only itself to blame. Who should we be listening to, oppressors or oppressed people? (Psalm 72.4, Psalms 9, 10).
Hope this is OK!
Alan

dave williams said...

Jody,

But it isn't the logical outworking at all -nor is it the same as saying that Creation defines him. You are making me say more than what I am saying.

The relationship between God and his creation prior to creation is future -he will create, he will save. Creation and the act of creation is not eternal. However God knows that he will create and knows that he will save, his purposes and decrees are eternal.

It is God that defines his creation not his creation that defines him.

At the same time you want to attribute these qualities to God's love. Of course everything about God relates anfd impacts upon every other characteristic. Creatino and Salvation come as much from his will that his name will be honoured -for his own name sake and from his justice as from his love.

It is not better to say God is Love and work from there. God is Love is one apsect of what God is. He is also Light, He is also Holy, He is also a consuming fire. We should be careful not to reduce god down to one characterisitc. God is Love among other things, Love is not God. Indeed earlier you said that "The 'Other' however is not necessary to define God at all. God is Love - definitive statement."

The problem is that if we say that, then we are at risk of defining God purely in terms of human understandings of love -the very mistake that people like John Sanders and Clark Pinnock have made. The point is that there is a distinction between God is Love and the love that we attempt. That means that we define love by what we know about God rather than the other way around.

jody said...

Alan -welcome!, you don't have to be registered, I've set this up so anyone can comment.

I agree with you that people of all races imagine God in their own frame of reference. also we all seem happy to represent Christ in all colours - something I affirm, Christ came to represent all humanity - all humanity.

but it seems that when it comes to males and females....

somehow being female is less represented by the Christ than male is, whether black, white or chinese.

Dave, well, I don't think that I am making you say anything, simply working from the idea that to be Creator or Saviour then something needs to be Created or Saved...

I don't see Love as just another characteristic of God - Love is what God is, it is His being. Of course our human deficiencies distort what we know of love from this experience that we have, but this does not mean that we therefore diversify God, make him less than he is. All other characteristics of God are aspects of his nature, which is Love.

to wade through the mistakes that I might and do make is worth the risk to discover the holy pure love that is God.

dave williams said...

Jody,

Be careful that you do not reduce God to one of his attributes. Love is an important attribute but it is only one attribute.

It isn't a matter of what you feel about God. This is where the Bible says something specific as opposed to the mere speculation that was going on earlier. The Bible talks about a number of attributes that God has and a number of things that God is. God is Love, God is Light etc. We need to understand him in terms then of his holiness, his justice etc. His love is a just love, his justice is a loving justice etc.

But now I am simply repeating what I've already said just as you simply reasserted your earlier point. This isn't really a discussion is it? So I guess its time to stop going round in circles.

I hope now that you will have realised that there are things that we all care passionately about We all have our red lines beyond which we will not allow others to pass. Yours are on things such as male/feminine roles. You also heavily police the border if you think that someone is attacking God's self exisitence -even when the other person isn't actually questioning it!!! Others are concerned to uphold the truthfulness of God's Word, his reliability his ability to communicate with the World and so draw lines in terms of what we say about the Bible. The idea then that one is "closed/conservative" and the other is "open" has clearly been refuted!

Dave

jody said...

Dave,

I'm not collapsing God into one attribute. I am saying that God's attributes stem from his being, which is Love. This is a Biblical understanding and a theological one, even Augustine defined God's being in terms of Love. I don't think I am off beam here.

God's holiness and wrath are aspects of his love - why is this a problem?

yes, perhaps we are going round in circles.

Open does not mean not willing to contend for things which we feel passionately about - was that ever a definition of OE?

dave williams said...

Jody,

It is absolutely right to define God's being in terms of his love and so say that he is in very being love when we mean that he doesn't simply love but love is essential to his nature -he is loving in all his ways. We then say with John that we know what love is because God is love. Saying that God is love and that is his essence in an exclusive sense so that all other characteristics come from that is something different again. It is at best speculative, unwarranted by scripture. There are other things that the Bible says "God is" such as Light and Spirit. God's holiness and his wrath can be seen to come as much from him being light as him being love.

The importance here is because we do not want to reduce God down to one quality. We do not worship love, God is Love, Love is not God. We know what love is because God is love. We do not know what God is because he is love.

That is why I would want to be careful about saying that God's essence is love and that this explains what we need to know about God.

Returning to the theme of whether or not creation is eternal. When as orthodox Christians we say that God has exhaustive foreknowledge then we are saying that he knew that he was going to create. His knowledge of his future creation then means he has some form of relationship to it. But knowing that it will be does not make it, or the action producing it eternal does it?

jody said...

Dave,

I guess if we can say that we define God's being in terms of his love and say he is loving in all that he does, then, to me, this means that all things that come out of God's being are defined by his love. I am not saying that God is not angry at sin and will destroy it ultimately. I believe that he will.

However, if I define wrath as stemming from his love, I have heard it defined as 'wounded love', God turns his face away and leaves us to the consequences of our own sin (because this is what we have chosen), then I have avoided the mistake of making God divided in his being, which is what we do when we make mercy and justice two 'sides' of God.

if creation is not eternal then God needs to be defined other than in relation to his creation. If God is eternally saviour and creator, rather than saying he is eternally love and therefore there is the anticipation of creation and salvation, then God needed sin in order to be defined (as saviour) - I cannot sign up to that.

dave williams said...

Jody,

I agree that things are defined in terms of his love -the point is that his love is defined in terms of other things too. We allow each of his attributes in turn to take its place.

Does God have exhaustive foreknowledge of his creation and salvation -that's a straight forward yes or no answer. From that you have then to consider the implications. I think you are saying "God needs something" where I don't know that John would and I certainly wouldn't.

In terms of God's wrath we are moving then onto other territory aren't we? In one paragraph you talk about God's anger in the next you talk anger as wounded love and God leaving us to the consequences of our sin.

We need to remember a couple of things -that the consequences of our sin are what God decrees them to be he decides that it is death. I guess we might talk about God's holiness but that is very different to saying that things come from God's Love. Indeed that is a problem with a one dimensional description of God. We also need to note that through out Scripture there is a proactive wrath and punishment of sin rather than simply God passively abandoning us. Indeed I woudl suggest that it is vital to say that God is still active sovereign and relational with regards to sinners -not absent, not passive. Thirdly yes he will destroy sin but we as sinners too would face destruction not just the sin because we are not simply captives we are active rebels. Christus Victor and Penal Substitution belong together (indeed Gustaf Aulen would I suggest to some extent have included PSA within his concept of what happened on the cross).