“Alexamenos worships [his] god,”
I get this question a lot when I go into the elementary school classrooms, however I can never give an adequate answer. The reason I can’t ever give them a real answer is because they are usually in about grade 5 and I think the only adequate answer is about sex. So yes, to your shock and horror I am going to sexualize God and the Bible and probably get everyone mad at me.
So usually I start out by telling the kids how God’s maleness isn’t just a sexist way to describe God but that God is called male for a reason. The Church is the Bride of Christ and Christ is the Bridegroom. This automatically makes God male and the rest of us female and not just in a metaphorical way. In a relation of human to human we have a type of female or maleness, but in a relationship on a supernatural level we are all female and God is male. I think this gets confused a lot because of modern society’s confusion with the distinction between sex and gender. Sex is a biological fact while (to the chagrin of the sexually liberated) gender is not an identity you choose, it is a type of person based on sex. The word Gender comes from the word “Genus” which means a general distinction (as opposed to a species or specific type). So gender is just a general category that we fit into based on sex. This distinction between gender and sex is not what this blog is about however…
So I want to argue that Sex and faith have the male female distinction and that God has used sex to tell us truths about Himself. I mean why wouldn’t He first of all? Sex is as close to Heaven, as close to bliss and ecstasy that we can get in our physical human form. It is a beautiful and wonderful gift that expresses the divine. The Bible expresses Jesus as the Bridegroom a lot!
In Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19 and Luke 5:34, the Apostles are referred to as the friends, guests, or children depending on the translation, of the Bridegroom commonly accepted to be Jesus Christ.
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.”- Matthew 25:1-13
“Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church” – Ephesians 5:22-25
And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” -Revelation 19:9
The Bible is clearly using the relationship between husband and wife to represent the relationship between God/Jesus and His people (sometimes considered the “church” and sometimes considered the “city of Jerusalem”). There is an obvious ongoing metaphor so I’d like to take this metaphor one step further. I heard one time that a very devout Catholic couple referred to their marital sex as “Celebrating the Sacrament”. So why not bring in the sexual aspect of marriage into the metaphor from the Bible? I mean sex is a key part of marriage so maybe God is trying to tell us something by using this Bride/Bridegroom language all the time.
When it comes to male and female, we have to talk about sexuality, so we are going to get a little explicit here. What makes a man, a man is that he has a penis and what makes a woman, a woman is that she has a vagina (duh). So what makes someone male is the ability to literally and physically enter into the female. (See why I can’t explain this to elementary school children?) This makes the man the natural “aggressor” while the woman is the natural “receiver”. You could say that the man is offense and the woman is defense and we see this in stereotypical, traditional gender roles. Outside of just the sexual act we commonly see the man as the pursuer and the woman as the pursued. The man typically makes the first move while the woman decides whether or not to receive the offer. (btw I’m trying to make this sound less like a horror film but I can’t, so don’t think of “aggressor” and “offense” and “pursuer” in a violent or patriarchal way.)
In human to human relationship this is obvious, especially in the 50s. Now let’s take this analogy to God/Jesus’ relationship to His church. C.S. Lewis calls God “The hound of Heaven” and talks about how God pursues us. Just to make this blog post as sexual as possible let’s look at the naked picture on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel….
Look how God stretches, pursues Adam who represents humanity. God is on offense while Adam (all of us) get to choose whether or not we want to receive God. We can take the sexual analogy and say that God is the one who “enters into” our lives, our hearts. God is incarnated as a human being; God penetrates our physical world with the incarnation of Jesus. I’d even go so far to say that Jesus enters into us in a physical way in the Eucharist. The body of Christ literally and physically comes into our body. You could even say that we become impregnated with the graces of God and give birth to the Good works we perform. Now you can say that is over-sexualizing God but so what? If we see sex as something dirty or perverted then this seems disgusting or sick. However if we saw sex the way God sees it, the way He created it to be and the way it exists in an ideal Christian marriage then this is a profound explanation of our relationship with God.
So to answer the question, this is exactly why we call God “Father”. Because we are the Bride of Christ and Christ is our Bridegroom. God has to be considered male because of what being male is (which I think we’ve lost sight of lately). I think this is more than metaphor or analogy, I think this is the fullest expression of love. In a human sexual relationship the goal is to become one.
“and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” Mark 10:8
The goal of our relationship with God is also that we should become one with the divine and that happens when God enters into our bodies, hearts and minds.
To lazy to read? The short answer is yes. Ok, go back to Netflix.
I’m going to paraphrase a long quote from Lumen Gentium Paragraph 16.
Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God….But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. – Pope Paul VI
Now notice that Paul VI uses the word for God “the Creator”. Obviously the God that Christians worship, which is not simply God the creator, but also the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ. Muslims do not believe this, and some would say that the Muslim God is so different because of this that it does not count as the same God we worship. I would say that this is focusing only on the differences and not on the similarities, or throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
That is a valid point to bring up, but is not sufficient to say that we do not worship the same God. One of God the Father has a main quality, that he created. If I was to say “I believe in the same God as you, but he did not create the universe” then ya, that’s not the same God. For example “Pantheists” believe that nature is God and that there is no outside force holding nature in place. That has a certain amount of truth to it however I wouldn’t equate it with the Christian God. Muslims however believe in the Abrahamic God, the same God present in the earliest writings of the bible. From what I understand, Muslims followed Ishmael’s lineage and Christians follow Isaacs.
Now that is not to say that Christians can embrace the full Islamic religion. There are very important differences but at its core we do worship the same God and we have so much we could learn from Muslims. There is a problem that arises from when we only account for our differences and focus little on our similarities. It leads to a “us vs. Them” mentality and we see them as enemies rather than allies. They most certainly are our allies when we live in such a secular, dare I say, anti-theistic world!
What I think people don’t realize is that the criticisms of Muslims from non-religious people can easily be turned on Christians as well. Some say Muslims are violent or oppress women or believe in an archaic book. All these attacks can be used against Christians as well. We can respond with “not all Muslims are violent, only some” or “oppression of women is rooted in people, much deeper than simply their religion” or “just because a book is old doesn’t make it untrue”. Even if these arguments from non-religious people are somewhat true, the sweeping generalizations made are not true. Furthermore from a secular perspective those sweeping generalizations, sweep us Christians away with them.
So when we hear someone say anything negative about Muslims that is unfair, untrue or over generalizes them, we have a duty to object! Justice calls us to defend Muslims far more often than we realize! When we let a joke slide that makes fun of a religious Islamic tradition, we allow them to make fun of our Christian traditions as well.it is our obligation to defend religions of all sorts against slander. If we do not, we are really letting slide slanderous words about Christians and ultimately slanderous words about the one true God.