I’ve been thinking a lot about my deepest held images of God: why do I hold them? Where do they come from? What do they say about the Christian faith I was raised in? What do they say about me? How do they hold me back? Or how could they possibly be liberating?
I used to be afraid to think about images of God. I used to think that if there were no more images of God, God would disappear for me.
Yet, personal religious experiences that I’ve had recently have changed my mind.
I believe there’s Something there, something bigger and more amazing than I can comprehend. Something that feels like love and sings wisdom into my heart. I call that something God.
It’s hard to talk tangibly about something, though, ya know?
So, here we are, humans with limited (as amazing as they are) mental capacities, which are reigned in even further by the confines of language. And we need to talk about. . .
I imagine the writers of the Bible had this problem. How to write about something?
And like good writers, the Biblical authors explained this unfamiliar something by comparing it to something their audience would find familiar.
We need images of God. They help us talk about God. They help us pray. They help us understand. They help us fight injustice.
But sometimes these images take hold. Sometimes they become idols.
Instead of worshipping God, it seems like often we worship a father.
We worship a king.
We worship a lord.
But we don’t worship I AM WHAT I SHALL BE. We don’t worship God.
We worship men.
As Elizabeth A. Johnson says in her book She Who Is, “The theistic God is modeled on the pattern of an earthly absolute monarch, a metaphor so prevalent it is often taken for granted.” She reminds us the hard truth that, “even when [this monarch] is presented as kindly, merciful, and forgiving, the fundamental problem remains. Benevolent patriarchy is still patriarchy.”
I think sometimes we let our patriarchal, imperialist, domination-based society dictate our faith.
We lose sight of Jesus as God with us, and focus on God over us.
I think even masculine images of God can be extremely useful in confronting patriarchy, and other systems of injustice. If God is king, then I am not subject to earthly rulers. If God is father, then I am not subject to men.
Yet these images are so easily appropriated by those in power. If God is king, then king is God. If God is father, then father is God.
I don’t suggest we leave images behind. But I suggest we stop, and we think. And we remember.
We must remember God is not really a king.
If Jesus is any indication as Christian doctrine says, God looks nothing like earthly kings. God died a mockery of their robes and crowns. God rose in victory over death–the strongest threat that powerful men have in their arsenal–and in all God’s victorious glory God . . . went and fried up some fish and chilled with some friends.
The heavens are not literally God’s throne and the earth is not literally God’s footstool.
God is not really a king, and we need to be extremely careful when images of ruling men in a patriarchal society begin to inform our faith. That is when religion’s power of liberation gets wrestled away by the very oppressors it once challenged.
God is not a man.
God is what God shall be.