Gender and God-talk

Derek posted a couple of pieces on the language we use to talk about God, which sparked a good bit of commentary. (See here and here.) Partly, this ended up being about the propriety (or not) of using feminine symbols and pronouns to talk about God.

The best discussion of this I’ve come across is Elizabeth Johnson’s She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. I blogged about Johnson’s book at some length here, here, here, and here. You can also read a briefer version of her case for “God-she” here.

I think one of the deeper issues at play here is whether or not all our language about God is, to some extent, “constructed.” Johnson writes:

As the history of theology shows, there is no “timeless” speech about God. Rather, symbols of God are cultural constructs, entwined with the changing cultural situation of the faith community that uses them.

Some people are very uncomfortable with this and maintain instead that at least some langague is directly “revealed” and not time-and-culture bound. I don’t think this is a tenable view of how language works, though; even if some set of images or words was directly revealed in the Bible or wherever, the meaning of words is inextricably bound up with the context in which they’re spoken.

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