The “house of God” stories told by Jesus tell us about fathers, male householders and even a strong man who needs to be beaten up, but women do not have a role. Classic Christian theology of God’s house continues this habit and refers to God as the father or the Lord. The classic narratives of Jesus and the twelve disciples limit his intimate followers to men, although they mentionnwomen who were followers. When we get to the letters of St Paul, we see that the young church communities had women in key roles, although the developing church failed to build on this practice and eventually excluded women from leadership. The church grew up in a patriarchal culture but the practice of Jesus and St Paul seems to have been more radical.
If the organisation of the church became patriarchal, its worship and theology followed suit. The Jewish tradition was of a male God, Yahweh, who was often depicted as a king with no consort. Only the book of Proverbs gives us a divine woman, the personification of Wisdom, who is described as God’s companion in creation. This is a fruitful image of God’s femininity, but it was not much used in subsequent Christian theology.
So, if I am engaged in constructing a theology of God’s House, I should be faced with the question in this blog’s title, “Where’s mama God?”
The Roman Catholic Church has an answer to this question. The Virgin Mother Mary, flesh of our flesh but removed into the life of God, is of course the Queen of Heaven, the mother who brings our prayers to her son, the new Eve who is the mother of the beloved disciple, meaning all disciples. Surely it would be good for a protestant like me to accept the wisdom of the Roman Church in its promotion of Mary, a woman, into the process, if not the object, of worship. Here is someone who redresses the balance of male/female in divinity, and allows a female access to God.
I don’t accept this answer, although I admire its power. For here is a woman deprived of her humanity, namely her sexuality as the wife of Joseph, and the mother of Jesus’ siblings. Perpetual virgin she was not, according to the scriptures, and to make her so was a denial of her womanhood, because female sexuality was a problem to the church, and had to be suppressed for the sake of holiness. Mary can become semi-divine because she is no longer really human. This is an image of womanhood which denies the powerful femininity ascribed to Mary in the Gospels and suggests that divinity is achieved by disabling humanity. The Virgin is part of the terrible story of Roman Catholic refusal of healthy sexuality to its laity while permitting an unhealthy sexuality in its celibate priesthood.
The other, perhaps more serious, defect of Marianism, is that it deflects the question about the gender of God. High-minded theology rejects this question out of hand: God is not a human being and cannot be subject to categories which are only suitable for human beings. Well, maybe, but why then call God father, king and lord? The answer to that may be that we cannot easily think of a genderless being, and do not want to in the cae of God, so “he”remains masculine. But if we take seriously Genesis 1: 27- “ God created humanity in his own image; in the image of God he created it; male and female he created them,” then we must believe that God is male and female rather than genderless. We do not need to invent a female partner for a male God, because God is both male and female, although this femaleness has been denied, suppressed and abominated by traditional theology, which reflects the smelly masculinity of its priesthood.
There is a wonderfully robust assertion of the motherhood of God in the “Showings” of Julian of Norwich, who sees that the God who gives birth to humanity and the Christ who gives rebirth in the power of fhe Spirit must be Mother as well as Father. Her subtle and suggestive theology is a model of how we can envisage a God who is more than gendered rather than less. There are also theologies based on Lady Wisdom, or Sophia in her Greek existence, which use the rich resources of the wisdom writings of the bible, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Job, Ruth and Jonah, along with Genesis and the Gospels, to set out the femaleness of God. We should note that this is a matter of ascribing femaleness to all members of the Trinity rather than for example, making only the Spirit female. But Jesus was male, somebody will object. True, he was, but what is he now?
The alert reader will have noticed that I incline to take male and female as more than socially constructed roles. Of course there are social constructions of male and female identity, but they are a response to a sexual dimorphism which is a fact of most evolved life on earth. It is a beautifully imaginative nsight of the Genesis author that this dimorphism has its origin in the complex nature of its creator.
The house(hold) of God does not need a mother to partner the father, because God is both mother and father, the strength of the female and the tenderness of the male, the wisdom of the male and the will of the female, the love of the female and the justice of the male, begetting and giving birth to the children of God and welcoming them into their true home.
“smelly masculinity of its priesthood” – I don’t know, women priests can be just as smelly LOL. Seriously, though, you are certainly right in what you write here, but I’m glad you stopped short of advocating “Mother” language for God. The “fatherhood” of God is problematic and has created many of the aberrations in Christianity that we know all too well – but it no longer needs to be a source of patriarchal oppression. If more clergy would preach and teach along the lines you eloquently illustrate so often in your blogs – and I assume in your sermons – more and more Christians would move away from established modes of thought and prejudice.
I should also comment on what you wrote about the Virgin Mary. Right on! And it’s not only the Catholic Church that has done so much damage to the femininity of Mary. Even her revolutionary words in the Magnificat have been turned into beautiful music by the greatest of composers, but have had little impact on the churches that have catered to the rich and the powerful who are brought down in her words. In the Orthodox Church, the verse of the Magnificat are chanted in alternation with the following refrain (get ready to scream): “More honorable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim, without defilement [or, corruption] you gave birth to God the Word, true Theotokos we magnify you.” This hymn used as a refrain in the Magnificat, sung every Sunday morning before Liturgy begins, also form part of the main hymn in praise of Mary that is sung in the Liturgy itself. Forget the cherubim and seraphim and all the other glory heaped on her, the serious matter is the word, adiaphthoros – without defilement, or even more literally, without corruption! Do you understand the message that is communicated by that single word and its English translation? The implication is clear: Mary was preserved from corruption in her giving birth to Christ. She did not have sexual relations with Joseph – fine the Gospel of Matthew indicates that. But the church (both Catholic and Orthodox) has also affirmed that she remained a virgin. She never had sex with Joseph. And the screwed up monks who wrote the hymns and much of the theology of the Orthodox Church cheer her on because she was not corrupted by sexual relations! So any woman who has sexual relations, even within a marriage, is basically corrupted, defiled. Believe me, it’s not just the Catholic Church that has a twisted attitude to sex.
I didn’t know this sad information. But I ‘ve always been astounded by the women who love the Virgin. I remember asking a woman in Italy who had been embracing a statue of the Virgin, why she, a married woman with a child, loved the virgin so much. “ because she didn’t have to put up wiith it” she said, doubtless meaning sex. So maybe bad sex is the explanation.