Objections to God’s Masculinity: Part Four
Written by Father Bill 4 Comments
Continuing to examine objections to the idea that God is masculine, we come to this:
Yes, we find the Bible speaking of God in all sorts of ways that seem to predicate masculinity to him. However, we cannot take these predications as if they were literally true. They are simply a more elaborate version of a common figure of speech known as anthropomorphism – speaking of God as if he were human (or male). The Bible speaks of God as if He had bodily parts such as an arm, or or hands, or fingers, when we know that God is a bodiless Spirit.
The unknown author of Psalm 94, however, construes the relationship of Creator and creature in a different way:He who planted the ear, shall He not hear? He who formed the eye, shall He not see?”
God’s hearing is positively asserted here, and that very capacity – God’s actual hearing – underlies His creation of human hearing. That men see is evidence for God’s seeing, for He created men’s eyes. One could easily extend the Psalmist’s statements to the entire human body. If we did so and then summarized the result, we could say that man is the image of God!
“Image” in Genesis 1 is the Hebrew tzelem, the ordinary term for a statue. Nebuchadnezzar erects a golden tzelem of himself [the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew term] in the Plain of Dura. There is no question in either Daniel 3 or Genesis 1 that the respective images fail to precisely, accurately, and fully replicate those whose images they are. On the other hand, there is no doubt that either image corresponds to the one whose image it is.
The golden tzelem is, so to speak, Nebuchadnezzaroid. Nebuchadnezzar is the original, the archetypal schema, the prior reality which determines the shape of the image of himself which Nebuchadnezzar creates, such that the statue on the Plain of Dura is an image of Nebuchadnezzar instead of an image of Abdul the Beer Brewer down on the banks of the Euphrates.
To say that God’s arm or God’s hand or God’s finger are anthropomorphisms is, after a fashion, to put the matter backwards. Man is himself theomorphic. Not all God’s creatures are theomorphic; none of the animals, for example, are ever said to be created in the image of God. But man is expressly said in Genesis 1 to be theomorphic. Whatever this means in the details, the very notion of an image requires that some minimal features of the image mimic in their nature and/or function the Original on which the image is modeled. In these respects, therefore, it is legitimate to assert that any such features apply to the Original, even if we know such features only in the image.
Craig French, in a comment on a previous blog in this series, wrote this:
So if God describes Himself in masculine terms, it isn’t that He isn’t masculine…it’s that our masculinity cannot contain His. His masculinity is on an immeasurable scale.
In a sense, I guess it is better to say He *is* masculine…what we are is analogically masculine. We can only be accommodatedly masculine because He is ultimately masculine.
In this comment, French is getting at the same idea contained in the notion that we human creatures – created in the image of God – are theomorphic. And, if so, then it is not at all out of the question to predicate to God a quality one observes in the creatures created in His image.
Again, these considerations do not establish that God is masculine. But, they do dispel the criticism of God’s masculinity, that it cannot be literal, that it must be merely figurative.
The same considerations undercut a criticism that other sex-specific predications about God are merely figurative. Among such criticisms is the claim that God’s fatherhood is merely figurative, he is only like a father. The Bible, of course, is awash in similes and metaphors applied to God. But any objection to the Bible’s description of God as somehow defective or indeterminate because it is cast as a simile or metaphor begs the same sort of question as the claim that some statements are anthropomorphisms. Any comparison between God and something not-God is obviously pointing to a quality or feature or aspect that is the same in both God and in that thing to which He is compared. The interpretative challenge is to identify what those features or aspects amount to.
We say, for example, that a beautiful woman’s lips are like a rose. Do her lips have thorns? Roses have thorns, after all! Are her lips colored yellow? Many beautiful roses are yellow! No — we mean that her lips have a deep red color, just as the rose has a deep red color. Seeing the woman’s beautiful lips makes us think of the beautiful rose. So, even if God is merely like a father, to say such a thing is to positively assert that fathers and God share some quality or characteristic(s) in common.
But, again, with fatherhood, Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:15 that God is the Father (as Mr. French describes in his comment linked above) while all fatherhood in heaven and earth takes its nature from Him.
At this point, a religious feminist can be expected to pounce and to say “Gotcha!! God is just as feminine as She is masculine!” The reasoning here is that man is created male and female, that both male and female are in God’s image, that this datum in Genesis 1 requires us to conclude that God is no less feminine than S/He is masculine.
Paul would disagree, of course. In fact, he does so in 1 Corinthians 11. And, that is the subject of the next couple of blogs in this series.