Objections to God’s Masculinity: Part Three
Written by Father Bill No Comments
We 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.