Friday, 3 June 2011

Benny Hazelhurst and a genderful God.

   I really enjoyed Benny Hazelhurst’s post on A Genderless God; I was particularly struck by Benny’s suggestion that God is “genderful.” I have long thought that God transcends gender, but I had not come across this idea of a genderful God before and it immediately struck a chord with me and set me thinking about how many of our debates about the position of women in the church may be rooted in our theology, but that that theology itself grows out of our world view about men and women.
Benny mentioned that C.S.Lewis had been quoted to him; Lewis seeming to suggest God is male because,
“What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relationship to it.”
I have read plenty of Lewis’s books and value many of his ideas, but I suspect it tells us as much about how Lewis related to God, and to his own masculinity, than about a universal truth. The idea suggested by Lewis only works if you accept or believe that maleness is inherently “above and beyond all things” and that femaleness is inherently weaker, more dependent, fallible and submissive (just as we are to God.) This is not a model of the divine, or of men and women, that rings true for me at all, I see men and women as equals, I do not see men as “above and beyond." Cultures with female divinities often worshipped them because of the conception that women, with their power to give birth and sustain life, were “above and beyond” – but this can be limited as well. If men and women are equals, then, like the God in whose image we are made, we are both "genderful" - enriched by our gender - and we transcend gender  in that we relate as human beings first and foremost rather than simply as men and women.

Benny sees God as “genderful” because both man and woman are made in God’s image. To me, a genderful God is also suggestive of the breath, depth and height of God – a God teeming with creativity, the source of all being and someone in whom we find ourselves, both as men and women and as people who exist beyond the labels of male and female, gentile and Jew, slave and free. A genderful God also suggests to me the wisdom and knowledge of God. In Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, the narrator, who observes and reflects on four hundred years of human history, changes sex during the story. In a similar way Ovid’s Tiresias is turned from a man to a woman, and through the experience gains wisdom, breadth and compassion; T.S.Eliot in his poem The Wasteland also presents Tiresias as an observer/ participant of human life,and the Christian God is nothing if not a participating God. A genderful God participates in our humanity and encompasses all that we are as human, not just one half of that.

It is also true that when we free God from gender, or see God as full of gender,  this frees us from patriarchal confines. I don’t mean this just in an abstract way but in a practical sense. Women (and men) who have been abused often find the idea of a Father God, in particular when this is reinforced by a Church which is masculine in its hierarchical structures, difficult to cope with. The promise from Galatians that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, not only frees us from gender but also from demarcations and ideologies based on how we perceive ourselves and others. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with beliefs and definitions, but it is liberating that we are told that in Christ we exist beyond these structures – especially when we are in danger of being oppressed, rather than liberated by them. I don’t personally see marriage as oppressive, but when I was listening to John Richardson on Premier last week, he kept bringing his ideas about women in the Church back to the (supposed) position of men and women in marriage. To many unmarried women and men, or to those of us who do not view our marriages in this light, such a comparison was irrelevant or unhelpful. A genderful God allows us to find meaning in a way which is relevant, abundant and expansive – just as God is.


  1. Wonderful post, Sue, adding to Benny's already excellent reflection. I love your illustrations from literature - very illuminationg.

  2. Thank you Sue, for taking this on to the next level.

    I agree with you about CS Lewis and his limitations, but as a 'non-book' person, I did not feel that I had the expertise to say that.

    I also love the way in which you have expanded the idea of a genderful God in such a liberating and creative way.

    God Bless amd Thank You

  3. Lewis seeming to suggest God is male because,
    “What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relationship to it.”

    Pardon me while I puke.

    ...but that Jack Lewis was screwed up re gender (AT LEAST pre-Joy!) is hardly news. In his writings, his consuming FEAR of the Devouring Female is ever-present (definitely my one caveat about giving Narnia to uncritical-minded kids).

  4. Really wonderful post, Sue! I love your point about how we too transcend gender. Excellent!

  5. An insightful read. Thanks