Today is Trinity Sunday in the church's calendar. The Trinity is a mystery of the Christian faith. I am content to let it remain so.
I have, in the past, blogged about the Trinity and looked at the various metaphors that have been used to try and explain Trinity. None of them are really satisfactory, perhaps the best we could say is the Trinity is a bit like ... So, today I am going to say that it remains a mystery and I am okay with that. I don’t need to have explanations for the great mysteries of the faith.
Yet, the readings used today are interesting. They did unsettle me as I was once again confronted with the patriarchal nature of the Bible. Often it is insidious, patriarchy just creeps in and our minds, and even the whole culture we live in, take it in without realizing it.
God has been made male!
I had an interesting conversation with a youngster last week. It was with a child who has no religious background or teaching whatsoever.
Something minor had rocked his small world and he ended up in my room. He sat and said he hated “him upstairs”, he then went on, “why does he do this?”, “why does he not like me?” etc., etc.
I asked him, “Why do you think God is a he?”
He looked at me like I was stupid and said, “Well, of course God is a man. Obviously, God couldn’t really be a woman.”
God is not male or female, all language about God is metaphor pointing the way to some of the characteristics of God. Yet, in the collective thinking of our culture (and this little boy) God is male. God couldn’t be female because women are inferior. Even when that is not voiced it can often be perceived in the way women are treated.
Since the early eighties feminist theologians have tried to rescue the image of God from patriarchy. Verses that use feminine metaphor have been highlighted and lift from obscurity. When the Trinity has been discussed all the feminine images have been brought to bear. The spirit, ruach, is a feminine word in Hebrew. It is also feminine in Aramaic, a language Jesus probably spoke and in which the Gospel of Matthew was purported to be written. In Greek the word spirit is neutral (ungendered).
I am aware that in these languages every noun is given a gender. Anyone who has studied French or Spanish is aware of it. Yet, somehow it is different with the spirit, culture has imbibed it in such a way as to speak of the spirit and God as male. The passage we read today in John (15:26-16:15) has fourteen masculine pronouns/names. I don’t think it is about whether these pronouns are there in the original text. It is about how they are read and imbibed by the culture we live in.
Just like it had happened for my little boy, the use of these pronouns reinforce that we have a male God. And if we have a male God, then the image of male as superior quickly follows.
One of the understandings of our community is equality. The understanding begins, “In the Lindisfarne Community gender, sexual orientation, age, race or class are not barriers to service and function.”
In saying this one of the things we do is refuse to accept God as a male. I want to challenge each of you as you think, speak or write about the Trinitarian God to be aware of language. Be aware of how language shapes culture and thinking. If you start to say or write a male pronoun or image, stop and ask yourself, “why”.