Monday, October 22, 2007

Sexualizing the Image of God

I’ve been reading Edith Humphrey’s book Ecstasy and Intimacy the past few days—a masterful work on grounding Christian spirituality in the biblical story, particularly in the doctrines of Trinity and Incarnation.

Edith will be speaking at the AEF Conference at the end of November. But I first heard of Edith Humphrey many years ago when J. I. Packer pointed me to some excellent position papers on human sexuality that she had helped write for the embattled Anglican Diocese of New Westminster in Canada.

Thus, I couldn’t help skipping over some chapters to get directly to “the good stuff,” namely her chapter on human relationships as “Icons of Love.” I was particularly interested in her reflections on marriage and on the use of feminine language for God in worship.

Here’s some of what she has to say about the effects of calling God “Mother.” (Warning: R-rated stuff ahead.)

It is not that God is not motherly, but turning “Mother” into a proper name for God “tends to foster an unchristian kind of ... view that God is in everything ... because in using womb language, we are apt to confuse Creator with creature.”

She cites a prayer that “throws caution to the wind” and “sexualiz[es] the image of God in a bizarre manner.”

Elder woman, from the wine of your womb-love, You create the universe and bring healing.... Pour out upon us the elixir of your divine mercy: that, touched in the innermost parts of ourselves, we are restored as your beloved.... One whose splendour gave birth to the angels, Eye of wisdom, Holy Sophia, Goddess Three in One. Amen.

Humphrey’s astute observation? “What worshiping body would accept a parallel prayer that used masculine terminology (e.g., “the seed of your penis-strength”) as blatant as the feminine imagery used here?”

When you put it that way, you don’t need to add an argument, but (of course) she does. Humphrey reminds us that we are Trinitarian Christians and that (as Pannenberg observed) on the lips of Jesus, “Father” becomes a proper name for God. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Father is one name among many. But with Jesus, it becomes the name by which we know Him—Abba, Father.

Her comments on marriage and sex? Well, I’m given to writing longish blog posts, so I’ll cut this one short and postpone sampling those other comments to another post and another day.

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