Archives for posts with tag: imago dei

We cannot be the ‘image of God,’ either at the ecclesiological or the anthropological level,

unless we are incorporated in the original and only authentic image of the Father,

which is the Son of God incarnate. ~John Zizioulas


Jacqueline Gardner just pressed a piece entitled “Hold My Breath: Unoriginal Thoughts on Singleness”. It is a worth-while read on a topic that has been on my mind recently.

This past weekend I went to go visit a friend and her younger (single) sister asked, “How do you like being married?” My enthusiastic response was “Oh, marriage is wonderful!”

As the visit progressed she told us about how she (as an 18 year old) is quitting college and going to marry a very young enlisted man who is still in training and is being relocated every six months or so. Her parents and family are not thrilled. All of a sudden, I felt so guilty for saying “Marriage is wonderful!” It was a misleading statement to make to this poor girl.

Marriage is about a relationship. It isn’t a propositional idea. “Marriage = wonderful” is a bogus equation. It would have been true for me to say that “being married to my husband is wonderful” because ultimately, that is what makes it wonderful: the person you are married to. The relationship is wonderful. Not the propositional, abstract idea of “marriage”.

John Zizioulas is an Eastern Orthodox theologian who has developed a theology of personhood rooted in the idea that full humanity is achieved only as person participates (koinonia) in the Trinitarian life of God. Just as God defines Himself relationally (as three person in eternal, relational community), human beings are most fully actualized when living in relationship. It was Descarte’s idea that ‘I think, therefore I am’ that produced a culture saturated with individualized, independent existential thinking. In Descarte’s proposition, our being is divorced from relationship. Zizioulas attempts to move beyond Catesian self-centeredness by presupposing that the self is a gift, given by love: ‘I am loved, therefore I am’. He writes, “Being is a gift of the Other, and it is this very gift that constitutes love; if love does not grant or cause a unique identity, it is not true love; it is self-love, a sort of narcissism in disguise.”

I am loved, therefore I am. As both unmarried and married persons, our being, existence, and unique identity is established by the fact that we are loved. Being loved graces us with a matchless identity. And as both unmarried and married persons participating in the life and love of God, we are being filled up and completed.

Too many girls have heard “marriage” talked about as an abstraction and something to pursue for its own sake. Marriage, however, is just as unfulfilling as singleness if it is just another state-of-being.

Fulfillment is found in RELATIONSHIP, and singles have JUST AS MUCH access to relationship as marrieds do. Sometimes they have more access. Or perhaps I ought to say, they have different access.

Does this make any sense??

I looked at the young girl across the room from me and part of me wanted to scream, “I’m sorry!! I take that back!! Marriage is wonderful because relationships are wonderful! Marriage is wonderful for ME, because I’m married to Jacob Quick, and he is a sacrificial servant, not the kind of guy who will chase after his own aspirations and leave me in the dust. Marriage is wonderful because I’m a mature person who has taken years to develop my mind and a network of friends. Marriage is wonderful because both of us participate in relationships with the Lord.”

And the other part of me wondered, what if I had turned around and asked her, ‘How do you like being single?’ What would she have said? Because if being relational as a single person is not fulfilling for her, then being relational as a married person probably won’t be either.

So I am calling a personal moratorium on irresponsible descriptions of marriage. Too many girls are listening to the jargon that “marriage is wonderful” and what they hear is “marriage is the magic wand that makes life fulfilling”. That’s why I loved Jacqueline’s article. She was trying to say to these poor misled girls, “Ummm, start living NOW. Relationships are for NOW.”

John Zizioulas goes on to say that “The beloved one is unique because he or she is the beloved of someone, his or her beloved one. This is the only identity that makes him or her unique; it is a relational identity (cf. Mt. 3:17 and parallels; Jn. 1:18: ‘beloved; and ‘unique’ combined with the possessive ‘my’). Beings exist as particular, therefore, only as gifts of the Other, who grants them an identity by establishing a unique relation with them.” Be the beloved one. Accept the gift of your personhood from the Lord, and give the gift of your distinctive love to those around you… to those who are already here. Don’t wait for the elusive “married” state-of-being to be a real person.

Disclaimer (what post would be complete without a disclaimer?): please do not misunderstand what I am saying. I do believe that marriage relationships are amazing… it’s just that the word to highlight is RELATIONSHIPS. Not marriage. I feel like Christians have got it backwards. And the way in which we have gotten it backwards has left singles in the dust and has produced a lot of disappointed married people (who really thought they were getting something other than another relationship to sacrifice themselves in).

What are your thoughts? Do you think that we have divorced the idea of marriage from relationship by talking about it abstractly? What can we do to cultivate the identity of single and married people through relationship?

“My prayer for us this year is simply that we find frustration in the taking,

contentment in the receiving, and supreme satisfaction in the giving.”

~Jacqueline Gardner

~Annie Bolger Quick, editor

         Gender. Is it a category which applies to divinity? Is God gender-less? Is God gender-ful? Controversy is hot over the 2011 edition of the New International Version of the Bible and its use of gender-neutral terms to refer to God. From the midst of the conservative camp, I am sensing an emerging theological undertone that dares to argue that God is predominantly of one gender. Blogging on the topic has kept the debate fresh in my mind, and while this post is winding and slightly disjointed, it serves well to help me think through the issue.

We must talk about God, but God is beyond language. The best we can do is image God through our language, and the ancient way to speak about God is metaphorically. The parables of Christ are crucial because they demonstrate that metaphor is an indigenous Christian language. One advantage to metaphorical theology is that no one metaphor has to illustrate everything. Deficiencies can be covered by other models.

There are many examples of metaphoric language describing God. In Deuteronomy 32:18, God is both the father and the mother who gives birth: “You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” In Job, the writer talks about God both mothering and fathering: “Does the rain have a father? Who fathers the drops of dew? From whose womb comes the ice? Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens (Job 38:28-­29)? God is also described as a woman in labor and giving birth. He is seen as being in pain and crying out, gasping for breath. “For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant” (Isa. 42:14). Again the feminine imagery is found in Isaiah 49:15, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.” God is a comforting mother, “For thus says the Lord: ‘As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you'” (Isa. 66:12‐13). Isaiah describes God as both mother and father in this hymn of praise: “Look down fromheaven and see, from your holy and glorious habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The trembling of your womb and your womb-­‐tenderness? They are withheld from me. For you are our father” (Isa. 3:15‐16, literal translation).

With such strongly feminine imagery used in Scripture as God-descriptive, why does the tendency lean so strongly toward the use of masculine terms for the Divine in liturgy, prayer, and worship? The forms of scripture, creed, and historical theology in which Christian tradition is carried are encased in and formed by male-dominance. Theology is a matter of language, and of finding the best language available to speak of the concerns of faith. Theologians are very aware of the nuances and sway of language. It is not just the naming that is at stake, but that the naming establishes the relationships, the gridwork through which faith is mediated to women and men.

Roger E. Olson writes in his blog “Some Thoughts About ‘Christian Feminism’” that “insofar as we use the Bible’s predominantly male imagery of God we teach people that maleness is closer to God than femaleness. Without doubt that has been the case throughout much of Christian history.”

Sexism, like racism, is an insidious disease that affects everyone in a world saturated in it. Christians should be at the forefront of the battle against sexism, resisting the blight that it spreads throughout God’s created relational ecosystem. Supplementing predominantly male biblical imagery of God with female imagery, especially drawn from the Bible itself, seems to me to be a critical step in the movement toward biblical equality and restored personhood.

In the introduction to Dorothy Sayer’s article titled “Are Women Human?” Mary McDermott Shideler raises an equally viable concern, “Male and female are biological categories. Masculine and feminine are cultural categories. Both are impersonal classifications with real but limited usefulness. We cannot live or think effectively without classifying our experiences, but always we must ask whether the categories we are using are adequate for the problem we are considering.”

Are the categories male and female, masculine and feminine, “adequate” terms to describe the referent we are considering [God]? Is the God revealed in Scripture through both male and female, masculine and feminine terms classifying himself as one or the other? (Notice my use of the masculine reflective pronoun “himself”. It is unnatural, coming from my tradition, to use any other English pronoun. Perhaps other languages serve this purpose better.)

Olson’s critical follow-up questions to the case for equality are my food for thought these days: “But does throwing out male imagery of God in favor of predominantly female imagery solve anything? Or does it simply reverse patriarchy?” That is the danger that I find in modern feminist theology. The point is not to undo the harm that has been done by centuries of patriarchy via reversing the crime committed, the point is to redeem biblical images of God and the biblical purpose of personhood.

How is that to be accomplished? How do I move forward? I find that my tradition inhibits me from speaking of God in any terms but masculine ones. That is the great, almost imperceptible power of breakthroughs such as the new NIV translation. Slowly but surely, I will learn to speak of God as he speaks of himself. I will learn to see him as more than one gender or another.

In conclusion, I can echo the words of Olson once more: “God has no gender, in spite of the predominantly male imagery of God in scripture. I promote teaching that both male and female characteristics are valuable but prone to distortion and that both genders need redemption without in any way destroying or even undermining their uniqueness as created by God. I promote Christian leadership without hierarchy. I promote liturgical renewal that is not ideologically driven. I promote teaching boys and men to be suspicious of our socially-driven tendencies toward patriarchy without demeaning maleness itself.


~Annie Bolger Quick, editor