My intention for this series is to come from a perspective that gives weight to Scripture and church history. Before I do that, I must share this story. My first year in seminary had its ups and downs. I was a Barthian four-point Calvinist with progressive politics. In one practical theology class, the professor made it compulsory to write inclusive language about God. Distressed, I called the first disciple of Jesus I ever knew: my mother. If she was to fit a category theologically, she’s Arminian and gender wise, complementarian. I complained, “But mooooom! They’re just enforcing THEIR agenda!” She responded, “Rodney, God is Spirit, God is greater than what you or I can imagine.” Then it hit me, yes God is transcendent. I alluded to that in my final paper for undergrad. I would go on to become a better theologian because of this friendly reminder. And well write my Master’s thesis on the topic.
The Gospel of John chapter one, verses one through eighteen, functions as a Jewish-Christian anti-polytheist, anti-imperial critique. As an announcement of Good News, the Johannine author (John for short), writes of a creation account whereby the Word/Wisdom of God echoes the creation theology of the book of Exodus (Chapter 33-34for ex.). “The vocabulary of 1:1-18, “word….light….life….God…testimony….glory….grace….truth,” is reminiscent of the epiphany that attends the law at Sinai”- Dwight Callahan. Fascinatingly enough, Clement of Alexandria in his commentary on the Decalogue, argues that the Logos Inarnate is the same spoken word of God from Sinai to Moses and Israel.
The way that we understand the Parenthood of God is by first looking at the sources that name YHWH as FATHER. What type of Parent is God?
In the Torah, starting with Genesis, Moses refers to GOD as El Shaddai. Now as J.R. Kirk points out, most of our American Standard English translations of the Bible sanitizes biblical language. They are not “literal” as many claim; more like literary. El Shaddai like in Genesis 17:1 the covenantal God who demands the practice of circumcision (of all practices), is El Shaddai, the God of Many Breasts.
This God is not simply “God of the mountains.” That comes from reading extra-biblical sources, which are then re-read into the text. God El Shaddai alone is the source of humanity’s fruitfulness (Genesis 35:11, 49:25). The Bible’s condemnation of Ashera must be seen just as John 1 is, as prophetic critiques against idolatry. God doesn’t need a wooden Ashera statue or pole to represent God. God is Spirit, God is Holy and faithful, and expect us as human beings to do the same.
Revert back to Exodus 34, specifically verse 13, Israel is commanded to break down the Asherah poles and “sacred stones.” Again, verse 17,” Do not make cast idols.” Contrary to what the complementarian Center for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood teaches, the concern for Asherah poles was NOT about Asherah’s gender. It was about the actual poles and statues themselves being barriers to the Israelites worshipping The One True God.
Now, as El Shaddai, God our Nurturing Parent makes room within herself as God of the Patriarchs, the God identified as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Feminist scholars find the divine election of Abraham and the covenantal practice of circumcision to be a male-centered discourse (Genesis 17). What would it mean to examine this text in light of God as nursing Mother/Father? Perhaps one implication would be that since God is transcendent, God is capable of opening Godself up to the Other.
In several of his writings, Clement of Alexandria refers to God as God our Nurturer. Unfortunately, many complementarians essentialize fatherhood to simply providence (men being the breadwinners). This explains why CBMW president Owen Strachan can use shame to call out stay-at-home fathers as “MAN-FAILS.” The God of the Bible is great, God is holy, and God cannot be contained by anything according to Clement. The protest against gender essentialism is a protest against idolatry. And this protest actually works both ways. The Holy Other God who worked in the lives of the prophets Deborah and Huldah, warriors like Jael, and apostles like Junia and Phoebe, is also the Warrior God of the Exodus (Exodus 34:11).
God the Nurturing Parent, the Mother and Father of all creation was revealed to the Jews and Gentiles in life, death, and Resurrection of the man, Jesus of Nazareth. It is in Christ’s return we see in Revelation 1:13, that Jesus recieves the Church as the Son Of Man with nursing breasts (mastoi). And if we see the Son, we have also seen the Father. It is the Second Person of the Trinity that I shall turn to next.