The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female by Elizabeth Johnson

28 May

Elizabeth Johnson. C.S.J

The following are excerpts from the first few paragraphs on an expansive essay on the Image of God Male and Female, by Elizabeth Johnson.  We find the scholarly exegesis exhilarating, if sometimes technical.  Perhaps the comment that most jumps out is the *last three sentences of this extract, and underscores just what is at stake.

The critique brought by women theologians against the exclusive centrality of the male image and idea of God is not only that in stereotyping and then banning female reality as suitable reference points for God, androcentric thought has denigrated the human dignity of women. ... The charge, quite simply, is that of idolatry.... It is true that sophisticated thinkers will immediately deny that any maleness in image or concept of God is meant to be taken literally. Yet the association of God with maleness lingers on implicitly even in highly abstract discussions, as evidenced in statements such as “God is not male; He is Spirit.” Such an association is also presumed to be normative, a point demonstrated empirically by the dismay often registered when and if God is referred to with feminine images or pronouns. If it is not meant that God is male when masculine imagery is used, why the objection when female images are used? But in fact an intrinsic connection between God and maleness is usually intended, however implicitly. ... “It is idolatrous to make males more ‘like God’ than females. It is blasphemous to use the image and name of the Holy to justify patriarchal domination.... The image of God as predominantly male is fundamentally idolatrous” (as would be the image of God as exclusively female)...

The very incomprehensibility of God demands a proliferation of images and a variety of names, each of which acts as a corrective against the tendency of any one to become reified and literal. Female images and concepts of God disclose the relative character of male images and bracingly restrict their claim to ultimacy.

In my judgment, what is at stake in this issue is simultaneously the freeing of both women and men from constricting reality models and social roles, and the very viability of the Judeo-Christian tradition for present and coming generations. The challenge to male monotheism and/or male Trinitarian thought arising from new recognition of women’s equality and human dignity is one of the strongest in the course of the Judeo-Christian tradition, presaging a real Copernican revolution. ... If God is worshiped as the all-determining reality, the power over all, then the truth of God is tested by the extent to which the idea of God takes account of currently accessible aspects of reality and by the ability of the idea of God to integrate the complexity of present experience into itself. *If the idea of God does not keep pace with developing reality, the power of experience pulls people on and the god dies, fading from memory. Is the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition so true as to be able to take account of, illumine, and integrate the currently accessible experience of women? This is an absolutely critical question. More.



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One response to “The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female by Elizabeth Johnson

  1. Marg

    June 26, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Thought you might be interested in my article on this subject: Is God Male or Masculine?


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