We are now, finally, after a long time, starting our series on Male Feminist Theology. This is the first of many posts to come.
God is infinitely complex and beyond our articulations. It’s impossible to hold in our minds at any one time all the different paradoxical truths about who God is. (As I’ve described before) depending on the particular context, concerns, or questions at hand, there are different truths about God we should dwell on and emphasize a little more for that moment.
In our day and place, I think one of the biggest issues facing the church is our treatment of women, so this post will focus on what truths about God that we (especially men) should emphasize and hold in our minds when moving forward on this issue.
As a male feminist, I believe that God is a God that suffers in his Divine nature and character from eternity past. I’ve articulated (and debated; had guests posts about; posted quotes about) this belief of mine before, and I think it is especially fruitful when discussing how God relates towards a world that is broken in its treatment of women.
This idea that God suffers—in his very nature—has been proposed before by other theologians throughout the Church’s history, and the primary critique of it is that it sounds really close to what’s called an “Open” or “Process” view of God in which the God who is biblically described as “never changing” is subjected to the cataclysmic change of suffering.
But the view I’m offering here is not an Open view. Rather, I’m saying that God’s nature and work (an expression of this nature) inherently has a telos–it has a goal towards which it is moving, and this “movement” could be no other way. This movement (or “story”, if you prefer) is who God has been, is, and forever will be.
What is this “shape” of God’s nature? It is suffering unto life and shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew work describing what it’s like for the world to be knit back together again. Therefore I believe God’s very nature is one that begins in suffering and leads to new life within itself–not unlike the female process of childbirth.
This Divine “shape” and “movement” is what brings about all those super fancy theological words used since the Church’s earliest days to describe what’s going on in the Trinity: begetting, procession, perichoresis. This movement from suffering to life is also the source of God’s creative, “new life” impulses: Creation, election, Incarnation, Resurrection, and New Creation.
Some critics of this view say that if this is God’s Nature, it doesn’t hold any resources for liberating women from their oppression. In their essay, “For God So Loved the World?” Joanne Carlson Brown and Rebecca Parker write:
The advent of the Suffering God changes the entire face of theology, but it does not necessarily offer liberation for those who suffer. [This] image of God still produces the same answers to the question, How shall I interpret and respond to the suffering that occurs in my life? And the answer again is, Patiently endure; suffering will lead to greater life.
But this is why we need to say that God’s suffering nature is not “simply” suffering—it is “Suffering-Unto-Shalom”. We must not say one without the other. This God seeks to bring all things into Communion and solidarity with her own telos of life and shalom. Later in the same essay, Brown and Parker say this:
It is not acceptance of suffering that gives life; it is commitment to life that gives life. The question, moreover, is not, Am I willing to suffer? but Do I desire fully to live? This distinction is subtle and, to some, specious, but in the end it makes a great difference in how people interpret and respond to suffering. If you believe that acceptance of suffering gives life, then your resources for confronting perpetrators of violence and abuse will be numbed.
This is precisely why, when thinking of God while considering our sisters in the world, we ought to hold to a God that experiences suffering and death within himself but does not keep it there. In the Divine alchemy, injustice is turned into justice; violence into peace; death into life. This means that God’s own life is being experienced while women experience injustice and when others fight against the injustice. Both of these experiences are God’s own life being displayed in the world.
For a male feminist, theology must start from this place where the suffering of women is not something “foreign” to the otherwise distant, Kingly God. The conception of God I’m emphasizing here cannot be identified with patriarchal identifications of power at the expense and marginalization of others.
A male feminist theology must begin with a God who—within her nature—experiences solidarity with women, not “merely” or “incidentally” as a result of other subsequent acts or sovereign decisions, but then moves–both within himself and in the world–towards life and wholeness.
[image credit: “Untitled” by Rothko]