Bloggin' the 28: Re-presenting God

(system) #1

By Alexander Carpenter

Seventh-day Adventists Believe. . .God the FatherGod the Eternal Father is the Creator, Source, Sustainer, and Sovereign of all creation. He is just and holy, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. The qualities and powers exhibited in the Son and the Holy Spirit are also revelations of the Father. --Fundamental Belief 3 Here's my premise: Fathers are not inherently more Godly than husbands, grandfathers, brothers, sisters, mothers or wives. What we call God should not be some lingo-football tossed around in the socio-political game of the sex-wars. Rather, God is the ultimate definition of Being, and who God is tells us who and how we ought to Be.

Now here's my point: How we define God often leads to how we treat each other and it's no small coincidence that a church that defines God as a father continues to officially subordinate its female members.

And I respect all my family members too much to define my God by one role.

As has been pointed out hundreds of times -- I think very well in Jack Miles' God: A Biography -- the Bible uses both paternal and maternal metaphors for the divine, as well as God being at times a creator or destroyer, an angry, mistaken, implacable executioner as well as a lover.

Clearly the Jewish experience with the divine is quite eclectic and stretches beyond our current comfort zone of just father. If we name all the traits we do in our current doctrinal articulation of God as father we then imply that fatherhood includes these characteristics. Which is fine, but then we should at least somewhere articulate the other gender side of the human/divine relationship. And this lack of attention to articulating what a God-like mother might be, just also might be keeping our global church from ordaining the Godly in women too.

Some might argue that another approach would be to just stop anthropomorphizing GOD, which includes the pronouns. I see that our bloggin' linguist goes Jewish and leaves out the vowels. I respect his respect.

Since I don't want to get into a Foucauldian discussion of how our rhetoric -- our chains of sentences -- work to control us, I'll move on, but let's not just slip into the false comfort of tradition. In fact, our Protestant tradition, and even more the religious dissidents from the Anabaptists to the Quakers and certainly the early Adventists really worked hard to make their language conform to their principles of equality before God. They called each other brother and sister, and the Puritan use of "Thou" for God was actually the informal second person singular. Christians creating present truth always pay attention to language. So it seems both reasonable and morally fair that we either stop using any anthropomorphic terms for God or we articulate more fully the divine relationship to both men and women.

But the point of this summer Bloggin' the 28 project is not to merely redescribe theology, but to think creatively about what it means to apply our beliefs today.

On Friday night I attended Kinship Kampmeeting, held in San Francisco this year. As I sat in the Sheraton conference room packed with GLBT Adventists and their straight friends, I listened to people already making my blogging job easy.

Throughout the evening of foot washing, memorial for a Kinship member who died last week of AIDS, and shared communion, several of the pray-ers addressed God as mother and father. Did it move me greatly? Not especially; but it made me think about what our public definitions of God cause us to be and do. Here are people who experience deeply the fluidity of human gender and bare deep, terrible scars from the first-stones-cast by their community members. Whether one thinks that God hates sinning fags, just wants them to stay celibate or wants them to have really good gay sex, there should be little doubt that gender and God is a lot more complicated than our current paterfamilias definition implies.

But beyond the fact that we'll always fall short, on Friday, in the context of a strong, loving community, it was clear to me again that our experiences with other humans always, already affect our conception of God. And this makes me want to broaden my public witness about God in words, but also in deeds -- because the better we understand ourselves and our brothers and sisters, the better we'll understand our God. For the God of the spectrum of human shapes and colors also is the God of the spectrum of gender.

We believe that God is Creator, Source, Sovereign, Sustainer and it seems unbalanced to only associate -- fundamentally -- those characteristics with fatherhood. It seems like lesbian husbands and gay wives, single mothers, child-raising grandparents all embody to various degrees of these Godly traits as well.

Our belief is that God is "Creator, Source, Sustainer, and Sovereign of all creation." Jared Wright (Adventist Environmental Advocacy) has already pointed out the moral call to environmental care for creation; instead I want to draw attention to the action verb element of what God means. Creation is not a dominion to God, but an on-going experience in which God plays an active role by continuing to create through us, giving teleological meaning, caring about sustainable human practices, and giving healthy models for being in and relating to authority.

The bottom line is that if God is like that, so should we be as well. And if I can take a second to nudge those Adventists who make the Second Coming contingent on the character of God being reproduced in every believer -- I say, let's really talk about what that character is. According to Adventist beliefs, it looks to me that God cares about the environment, and as I read through our doctrine it seems that to be God-like means to care about justice and holiness, to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. And everything we saw in Jesus and revealed by God's Spirit today is also a quality of the DIVINE.

Let's relate God to each other, beyond just the relationship of father -- which will broaden our understanding of the divine character. Namely, an action verb experience that unfolds in relationships, because there's no such thing as being perfectly slow to anger, or perfectly merciful, or perfectly just. Those are always contingent on a context. And thus to me, dear brothers and sisters, living out the personhood of God seems to be more than a state of being or a fundamental statement of Being -- instead we're called to Be-come through Being.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at