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Problem of God

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Topics: God, Theology
Problem of God
Final Exam
1.

Ideas of what constitutes female and male shape our understanding of many dimensions of our humanity included but not limited to: leadership roles, politics, family roles, and religion. In her book, Sexism and God-Talk, Rosemary Radford Ruether argues that our understanding of religion, specifically Christianity, has strongly been influenced by sexism. She outlines the historical and contemporary role of sexism in religion and argues that sexism has shaped our image of God, the human and Jesus. Our understanding of humanity directly impacts our understanding of God. If we believe God is God and if we believe that God reflects Godself in humanity, than we understand that humanity has something to say about God. The problem of God is not God, the problem of God is the human interpretation, or misinterpretation of who God is. If we agree with the premise then we realize that sexism plays an extremely central role in our perception of God, and it brings a detrimental view of God which is oppressive rather than liberating. Society places certain gender related ideas into the category of biological sex. With time it has imposed ideas of what females are and are not into the category of genetics; making stereotypes such as weak, vulnerable, supportive rather than authoritative, emotional, and nurturing a norm which is simply presupposed by genetics rather than culture. This does not seem like a harmful move until it is brought into organized institutions and used as means to manipulate power and authority. So if humanity reflects God, what does a male dominated human perspective say about who God is? As Ruether states in page 23, the only way to bypass this trap is to reject “every elevation of one social group against others as image and agent of God” (Ruether 23). But the challenge does not lie in the rejection, the challenge lies in the abomination of such elevations which sadly have been standing in our traditions for many years. One of the biggest obstacles placed by conservative religious leaders to the idea that God is “she” as much as “he” is the humanity of Jesus, or rather the male humanity of Jesus. Many ask themselves how a male savior can save women. But the thing that distinguished Jesus from other prophets was not his humanity (therefore his masculinity), it was the fact that he was God, a God which offered salvation to everyone: male, female, black, white, Jewish, pagan, and anyone who had humanity in common with him. Jesus did not come to save masculinity, he came to save humanity, he came to profess a Kingdom of God which was present here and now, and was open to EVERYONE. What lives on today is what made Jesus so special, which was his spirit, a spirit which is alive today and as Ruther claims in page 131 it is a “power that continues to be revealed in persons, both male and female, in the present” (Ruether 131). So once again the problem of God does not lie in God’s plan, it lies in our limited interpretation of God’s plan. As I mentioned earlier, our understanding of humanity shapes our understanding of God; so, therefore, if humanity prevails to understand leadership positions and religious authority as something that is merely reserved for males it is placing itself in a trap of idolatry and sexism. A thin line lies between seeing God as a man and seeing a man as a God. The Roman Catholic Church states that priesthood can only be a call to males because the priest stands in the person of Jesus Christ, so the priest must therefore be male. However, the Church does not demand that priest be Middle Easterner or Jewish or born of a woman named Mary. It only places such limitation because society as a whole places such limitation on authority roles. The truth of the matter is that “all names for God are analogies” (Ruether 67), because no photograph can fully capture the essence of the person portrayed in it. In the same way no one thing in creation can capture the full essence of who God is.
God can’t be defined and God can’t be grasped, because when we try to define God we limit God; and in our limitation we exclude all human beings which reflect that part of God which we cast out. If we claim God is white, old, or male, how can we see God reflected in the youth, or African Americans, or a woman? And herein lies the beauty of God, God shows Godself in whatever field you give God. God is much more than we can imagine or interpret, and we must be very careful not to place God in a box. However, we must also be very careful to not detach God from our immediate human experience; rather we must allow everything and everyone to reflect a small part of who God is. And in time come close to the full photograph, understanding that even the full picture does not capture the essence of the moment it tried to capture in time.

2. There’s a paradox that lies in our understanding of God, for it can’t be limited by human interpretation, but likewise the only way to understand God is through our reality and interpretation thereof. Throughout the semester we have read several texts which demonstrate that, as I just mentioned, our understanding of God is largely influenced by our own human constructions. Whether through race, sex, sexual orientation, political view, beliefs, or other human qualities we limit our perception of who God is and more important who God is not. Two books which largely argue this point are Sexism and God-Talk by Rosemary Radford Ruether and Quest for the Living God: Mapping Frontiers in the Theology of God by Elizabeth A. Johnson. Both theologians demonstrate the effects of limiting God to a human construction and the effects that such an act can have on a human’s understanding of religion in its role in the cosmos. In the Gospel of Luke the core and essence of Christianity is understood through the words Jesus speaks as the Great Commandment, “Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27). Essentially, Jesus gives us the key to understanding what Christianity is truly about. However, as Cone would agree: even the Bible poses a problem, because even if it is considered divine revelation, in our reading of it it is filtered through our interpretation and human bias. So when looking closely at the situation at hand, even our starting point undergoes human construction of “the truth”. It is apparent in Ruether and Cone’s theologies of liberation that a great part of our understanding of God comes from our understanding of power: white and male. Both authors portray how these ideas of power, subconsciously or consciously, rooted in our schema can shape our understanding of who God is. Cone explains that the God of the slavedrivers was a God different from the God of the slaves, once again demonstrating that our perception of God is rooted in out context and reality. Both theologies also confront the problem that when we define God in terms of our humanity we exclude others and herein lies the division of the us and the them: Our God, My God, The God, Your God, Wrong God. However, if one understands the Gospel of Luke then one understands that one’s relationship with other human beings is truly a reflection of one’s relationship with God. So when we demonize one another, oppress one another, and hurt one another, who are we truly doing this to? Who are we truly hurting? Who are we truly oppressing? And who are we truly demonizing? In this hurt and division we find terms like “Our God”, “My God”, and “Your God”. In the same way that our relationship with others reflects our relationship with God, our talk of others reflects our talk of God, because in the end “All God talk is human talk.” It is impossible to study God; it is only possible to study human reaction to God. And this paradox is exactly what Johnson calls to our attention in her book, how this practice can have negative and positive consequences on our lives. In her book Johnson warns us that trying to define God is like “Trying to put the sea into a hole…it won’t fit”; she claims that “God surpasses whatever we can understand and account for in terms of our human categories” (Johnson 17). The problem then lies in the clash of the two theologies, encountering God in our everyday experience and being able to claim “we had an experience of God”; the experience of God which gave us a new interpretation of who God is, and the other idea which would be to not limit God to the human construction of who God is. One theology is referred to as “modern theism” (Johnson 15), a way of “compromising both the transcendence and immanence of God” (Johnson 15). And the other is simply trying to understand God through abstract notions, detached from our experience; and as philosopher Julian Marias states, our interpretation and definition must part from our experience not from abstract notions because if not we are not basing our judgments on anything that means anything to us. So the midpoint would be encountering God in the everyday experience of God but understanding that even that experience cannot grasp the entire mystery of who God is, it falls short, for overall, human talk falls short. In the end, the Problem of God is not God. The Problem of God lies in human interpretation of God and what humans do with that interpretation. If human interpretation of God is used to harm, hurt, prejudice, and oppress others, than we are falling short of “Loving God with all our heart and loving our neighbor as yourself.” So truly it always comes back to the basis of Luke’s Gospel, and perhaps that is why we began the class with such a reading. To understand that in the end our understanding of God is a human construction, but that construction must not be used against God and most importantly against one another. Rather each view of who God is should be used to have another piece to the interminable puzzle of who God is.

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