Objections to God’s Masculinity: Part Three

Last Updated on Monday, 5 December 2011 05:08 Written by Father Bill Monday, 5 December 2011 05:08

god masculinity bibleWe continue examining the most common objections to the masculinity of God, particularly those found among ostensible patriarchalists. We’ve previously looked at “masculinity is not a concept found in the Bible,” and now we tu rn our attention to an extreme version of this sort of thinking, bolstered by theology as well as lexicography:

 “God is beyond gender. He is infinite, transcending of all things He creates. To say that God is masculine diminishes God’s glory. It puts God in a box that cannot contain Him.”

Among Eastern Orthodox theologians, you will find much discussion along these lines, all to this point: the only thing we can certainly say about God is what we certainly know is not true of Him. God is not this; God is not that; God is not such and such other things. This idea even has a standard name in the study of theology. It’s called apophatic theology.

Opposed to this is a different sort of theology which also has a name: kataphatic theology. A kataphatic way to say something about God would be to say that God is love. The apophatic way would be to express a similar idea would be to say that God is not hate.

But, one might just as well say that God is not love, as He transcends even our notions of love and hate. Ultimately, if we pursue this way of speaking about God, we would even jettison the cocept of the Trinity, or even jettison the idea that God is one, because the Divine is above numberhood. Indeed, if God is truly transcendent in the way that apophatic theology posits, then He is beyond all duality and all distinctions because God contains within Himself all things and is beyond all things.

Logically, to insist that our knowledge of God is apophatic is to insist that we may know nothing at all — in a positive sense —  nothing at all about God. He is beyond any conceptual understanding by His creatures.

I trust you can see that this runs into two problems. The most trivial of these is this: if we may only speak of what God is not, then there is no “stuff” for theology at all. A premise of apophatic thinking a bout God supposes that we cannot know God truly because we cannot know God comprehensively. We cannot know “all of God,” and so we cannot know anything of God. But, this then exposes a second problem: it flatly contradicts what we find in the Bible.

The Bible, of course, is riddled with positive statements about God’s nature and His actions.  His words and His works are the stuff of the Bible.  And, the Old Testament prophets, jesus, and Jesus’ disciples in their New Testament writings — all of them insist that the Scriptures are the Word of God, Scriptures which are composed almost totally of kataphatic, that is, positive statements about God’s words and God’s works.

Of course, the Bible might be completely false, and it’s no surprise to find that  those who insist on God’s ultimate incomprehensibility also discount the Bible’s revelation of God. In fact, the Bible ceases to be revelation in any authentic sense; it becomes “a record of men’s experiences and thoughts about God.” These thoughts and reports of experiences are all kataphatic; they all affirm positively things about God.Yet if the apophatic premise is correct, then even the statements of the Bible fail to tell us anything true about God.

With this objection to God’s masculinity, we find a dilemma. If this objection is valid, then it is also true that we know nothing at all about God. But, if the Bible is, indeed, true, if there is indeed truth about God which we may know, then this objection to God’s masculinity fails. That alone would not establish God’s masculinity, of course. But, it would move past this sort of objection.

The discussion presented above may seem arcane.  Most Christians today  — at least those wtihin evangelical Protestantism in America — have never heard the words kataphatic or apophatic. But, I’d wager that many evangelicals have heard their pastors or Sunday school or home Bible study leaders say something like this:

“It is true that the Bible speaks about God or presents Him in a way that is obviously masculine.  God, for reasons we may speculate about, wishes us to think of Him in these terms.  Jesus wishes us to call God Father.  But all of these forms of address or forms of speaking are metaphorical.  We must not put God in a box!  Just because the Bible speaks of God in masculine terms, this is no warrant to suppose that God is really masculine.”

This is simply a way to say that we do not know anything about what God truly is.  Behind the mask of metaphor, God remains unknown and unknowable to us.

In a later blog, I will lay out the evidence in the Bible that reasoning such as I’ve highlighted above is false  — false, that is, if the Bible is speaking truth.

If, however, the Bible does not speak truly about God, then all bets are off, and those who keep the words of the Bible while emptying them of any truthful content are the same as those who keep a form of religion but deny its power. They are, in spite of the Christian window-dressing, not Christian at all.

 

 

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Name That Glory!!

Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 November 2011 03:05 Written by Father Bill Tuesday, 22 November 2011 03:05

Let’s play NAME THAT GLORY!

What is the glory of Paris? The Eiffel Tower, you say? Good answer! Oh, I see. This other fellow says it’s the Arc de Triomphe. Well, okay. There’s no law that says Paris can’t have two glories.

And, so, what is the glory of Athens? The Parthenon! There you go. See? This isn’t such a hard game after all!

What is the glory of Rome? Most folks will say the Coliseum. Or the Seven Hills (though they’re harder to actually see than the Coliseum). No biggie. If Paris can have more than one glory, so can Rome.

How about the glory of Vienna (I used to live there; eat your heart out)? People who’ve never been to Austria might say the Blue Danube. Folks who live there might easily say it’s St. Stephen’s Cathedral smack dab in the center of the city.

You see, when we’re talking about places (at least in English), it is easy to understand “A is the glory of B.” “A” is what comes to mind when we’re speaking of “B.” The glory of a place is what always comes to mind when that place is mentioned. That’s why, in the Old Testament, we find several examples of the cedar tree as the glory of Lebanon.

When we’re speaking of people, however, English speakers don’t often use the formula “A is the glory of B.” However, we have seen that this formula is easily used in the Bible when speaking of people. And, so “strength” is the glory of young men, because strength is what comes to mind when young men are mentioned. Gray heads are the glory of old men, for the same reason – when old men are mentioned, we think immediately of men with gray hair. And, as we’ve seen, skill at psalmistry (composing/singing songs to a plucked instrument such as a lyre or a harp) is the glory of King David in the Old Testament.

Now here is an amazing thing …

I have often presented the subject matter of this and previous blogs in this series, at seminars held in churches or at men’s retreats or similar venues. My students have been able to follow the inductive steps that let them see what “A is the glory of B” means. They can play “Name that Glory!” with complete accuracy.

And then I say, “Okay. We come to 1 Corinthians 11 and Paul tosses off the statement that men are the glory of God and woman is the glory of man. What does each of these phrases mean? Any hands?

No hands!

I wait. Still no one raises his hand. Many puzzled faces look back at me. A few of the faces are not puzzled, but they are suddenly very wary. Many faces go completely blank and unreadable; and long experience has taught me that when this happens in men’s faces, it is because they are alarmed or angry or terrified, and they instinctively grab hold of their emotions and hold them with a very tight rein, refusing to let what’s going on in their hearts show on their faces. It’s a sort of social defensive maneuver, deployed to keep one’s options open.

Why do you suppose this happens? Why does “man [the male, that is] is the glory of God” produce these reactions?

One hundred years ago, I doubt I’d see such reactions. Since the ascendency of feminism beginning in the 1950s through the 1970s, since the dominion of feminist values in politics, economics, academia, and cultural media was consolidated in the 1980s and codified in law and court decisions ever since then, and – most importantly – since evangelicals have more or less made their peace with religious feminism within their own ranks (and, this includes the so-called complementarians), on this side of all these developments over the past 70 years, evangelical men either cannot or will not acknowledge the meaning of “man is the glory of God.”

If they cannot acknowledge the meaning of “man is the glory of God,” it is usually because they are so conditioned against the meaning of that phrase that they are simply incapable of attaching that meaning to the words which convey it.

If they will not acknowledge the meaning of “man is the glory of God,” it is because they know better than to own up to what Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 11:7. They know very well how powerful are the deterrents against such an idea, how punitive are the consequences for candidly owning up to Paul’s meaning.

So, let’s put it out on the table and look at it in all its modern scandal: “man is the glory of God.” What this means is this: when God is the subject of our speech or thought, a man comes to mind. A woman does not come to mind (at least not in the Biblical faith!). That is why woman is not the glory of God.

No, it’s a man who comes to mind when Christians speak of God.

When Jesus ministered for three years before He was crucified, the awareness steadily grew in the minds of the religious authorities that this rabbi was saying and doing things that lead inexorably to the conclusion that He was God. And, it because a mere man claimed to be God that Jesus was crucified.

Today, Jesus would be crucified for exactly the opposite claim – that God is a man, not a woman. And, of course, the Apostle Paul would be crucified right alongside him.

We’ll begin to unpack this scandalous meaning of “man is the glory of God” in subsequent blogs. Stay tuned!

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Is A Man the Head of His Household?

Last Updated on Friday, 28 October 2011 07:00 Written by Father Bill Friday, 28 October 2011 07:00

www.courageousthemovie.com/

The   film Courageous  has gotten some religoius feminists in a tizzy over the whether or not husbands and fathers are the heads of their households. I haven’t seen the film (it hasn’t been booked into our small-town theater), but to judge by the eyes of the religious feminists who are commenting at the link above, I’d guess I would agree with the film’s fundamental premises about the responsibility married men have for the welfare of their wives and children.

Here’s how the blogger puts it:

  •  The movie implies (and explicitly states in at least one instance) that the Bible teaches fathers are to take full responsibility for their wives and children, but they do little to show where and how the Bible teaches it (actually nothing that I can remember, but correct me if I’m wrong) As egalitarians agree, there simply isn’t biblical justification for a view like this, and it is unfair to both men and women to place this extra burden on fathers alone.
  •  In encouraging men to be responsible, why does it have to be at the expense of women’s responsibility? Does the Bible not also call godly women to be engaged with their families, and to be prayerful, respectful, kind, and integrity-filled—all prominent ideas in the resolution the men sign? To me, these challenges seem to highlight the way all who follow Christ are to live—both female and male.

As usual, religious feminists can’t stand the notion that the Bible lays responsibilities on men greater than a women’s, that women and men relate in the family in an ordered way that makes the man responsible to God for the woman in a way that the woman is not responsible to God for the man. To the religious feminist, any wifely responsibility that is NOT identical to the man’s is no responsibility at all, rendering her “passive.” Such folk need to be warned against airing that sort of idea to a faithful wife and mother productively serving her family in a patriarchal marriage, lest she punch their lights out.

But, here’s the rub, something which shows how intractable the religious feminist’s plight is when he is firmly in its clutches: the religious feminist cannot see what is writ plain in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. The Bible is patriarchal to the core, and at the heart of the Bible’s patriarchy is a responsibility of the husband/father for his family that is not shared with the wife.

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