This post is part of a series on Male Feminist Theology.
Just as the Godhead itself is Suffering-Unto-Life, so are each of its members. Today we look at the second person of the Trinity: Jesus, the Begotten of God.
It’s my contention that we need a concept of a God who both knows suffering within his essence as well as fights against it. This is the only conception of God that can actually move us forward in fighting against the marginalization and abuse of women.
More traditional views of God (often having their historical source in Greek thought rather than Hebrew) make God into a Transcendent Male, Kingly, Lording figure whose primary relation to us is as one to whom we are meant to submit. This is so common, many (most?) people that just read that sentence may have not disagreed with any of it.
The problem with this is two-fold. Elizabeth Johnson, in her essay “Naming God She” describes the first problem well:
[N]aming God almost exclusively in the image and likeness of a powerful ruling man has had the effect of legitimizing male authority in social and political structures. In the name of the male Lord, King, Father God who rules over all, men have the duty to command and control: on earth as it is in heaven. In Mary Daly’s succinct, inimitable phrase: if God is male, then the male is God.
The second, and more important problem with this is Jesus. The nature of God that he reveals is not the distant “Super Male” of the Greeks (read more on Jesus masculinity and God’s gender). Jesus shows a God that defers to the marginalized and abused, not demands their obesience and submission as the primary way he relates to them. (Yes, he is judge and king, but we’ll come back to that another time.)
Though there are clear pictures in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Jewish God being one who suffers with and for his Creation, this whole idea of God as Suffering-Unto-Life becomes really clear in the historical event of the Crucifixion. This has to be our starting place in theology.
It is my belief that the Cross of Jesus is an expression of the eternal truth of the Suffering God breaking into our world; it is not a worldly human experience “added to” the Divine Nature. The Son is the lamb that has been slain since eternity past (1 Pet1:18-21; Rev13:8). Martin Luther said,
“the cross was the reflection (or say rather the historic pole) of an act within the Godhead. [Therefore,] the gospel was proclaimed even before the foundation of the world, as far as God is concerned.”
In Christ and the Incarnation, God is shown as one who identifies with and sides with the marginalized, and those that suffer under the powers and principalities of the world. In one of the most profound books on this topic I’ve ever read, Theology of the Pain of God, Kazoh Kitamori writes:
The Lord was unable to resolve our death without putting himself to death. God himself was broken, was wounded, suffered, because he embraced those who should not be embraced….The pain of God reflects his will to love the object of his wrath…God who must sentence sinners to death fought with God who wishes to love them….The cross is in no sense an external act of God, but an act within himself.
This is the kind of thought about Jesus that can motivate us to solidarity and justice for women. It shows how God in Jesus comprehensively embraces human weakness and fallenness within history, and not just in a set of intentions or ideas.
Scripture repeatedly says that this world was created “through” Jesus, this dying and suffering (and rising) Child. Therefore Creation bears those very marks of suffering and death (unto new life). And we experience this as well. Just as in childbirth, we suffer because we have been created “through” the suffering of another, but it doesn’t make our own suffering any less particular and real. (Is it any wonder that this birthing image is used all over the Scriptures?)
The marginalization and oppression of women are not anomalies, but are actually them partaking in the Divine’s Suffering-Unto-Shalom echoing throughout creation. But remember: partaking and communing in this Divine Nature does not end with suffering, injustice, and oppression, but rather life, justice, and shalom.
God’s Suffering explains the existence of suffering in this world, but it does not justify its persistence. Divine Suffering never “persists” and never simply “is”. God’s pain is always in a movement towards life. It is a stream, a torrent, a waterfall from Suffering to Life and Wholeness.
Therefore, you are not participating in the Divine Life within suffering unless you are swept into this current and are actively working for justice, shalom, and the undoing of the suffering. To remain passive in the face of suffering is to work against the Life of God in you and in the world.
A male feminist sees in Christ a God who defers to the marginalized, and assumes that those peoples are the first and primary recipients of the effects of Christ’s work, salvation, and on-going ministry in the Church. The male feminist shows the same priority in ministry.
[sculpture credit: “Decor” by Adel Abdesemmed]