Monday, January 30, 2006

Getting it Backwards

This is something a wrote a long time ago as a response to a guy who was pontificating on the need to use gender-neutral terms in scripture translations and in the liturgy, even when to do so would distort the original meaning. I never published it, and this is going to be a slow blogging day, so I offer it up for the commentary and amusement of you, dear reader. AND while you’re here, go ahead and sign my site map!

A frequent rationale for "gender neutralizing" the scriptures is that people often have bad home lives and the concept of divine fatherhood is very off-putting. We therefore need to lose the male Father image in order to reach people with the gospel.

On my crankier days, I generally respond to that argument by asking, "Reach people with the gospel of Whom?" If we are going to change the nature of the Divinity to Whom we are trying to introduce people, then what is the point of making the introduction in the first place? The only god that can possibly be of any lasting value in peoples' lives is, after all, a real One.

Crankiness aside, in my more pensive moments, it strikes me that the whole question derives from a misperception of reality - a misperception that goes way beyond fatherhood and gender bending. We all have a tendency (well, I have a tendency - I've never been anybody else) to view our local universe as reality, and to project that earthly reality upwards when we think about God and the heavenly reality. The default assumption is to think of the divine in terms of the earthly. We think of God the Father in terms of our earthly experiences of fathers; we think of the Church - the Bride of Christ - in terms of earthly brides and the Wedding Feast of the Lamb in terms of earthly weddings. We think of the Law in terms of earthly laws - restrictions on our liberty. And we have it all backwards and upside down.

Since Adam fell, we his descendants are inheritors of original sin. Whether or not we equate "original sin" with "original guilt" (and that is a very old argument), all orthodox Christians agree that original sin relates to our propensity to do evil and our inability to be completely good. But there's more to it than just making it hard to click the remote when you come across a bedroom scene while channel surfing. I'm convinced that the main effect of the Fall has been to distort our perception of reality – all those naughty things we “can't not do” come directly from the warped views we have. Things that are crooked look straight and things that are straight look crooked. Small, illusory things seem large and foundational, while big fundamental things seem all thin and puny. And the insides of things seem like the outsides and the outsides seem like the insides.

We think of God the Father in terms of our dads, or our lack thereof. But the reality is just the opposite. God isn't the image of a human father; a human father is supposed to be the pale, itty-bitty reflection of the real Fatherhood implicit in the Divine Himself. We are fallen as well as puny, so we fail – sometimes very, very badly. A human marriage is the pale, insignificant reflection of the relation of God with His creation; that relationship is not an elaboration of an individual marriage. “The Law within” doesn’t constrain my natural liberty; the chaos within keeps me from reaching my full intended development, growing to fill that skeleton of purpose that is the Natural Law.

Instead of seeing our broken imitations of Godly things as the failure of fallen creatures to properly reflect the divine image, we complain that the divine reality is invalidated by the twisted reflections we see in the cracked mirrors of our hearts. And when we try to alleviate that distorted image by changing the reality, all we do is condemn ourselves to continued failure. If your earthly dad was a creep, you don't need a de-fathered image of God; you need to know that there is a real Father that your own dad didn't live up to. If your marriage isn't fulfilling, you don't need to scrap the “image of marriage” in your concept of God. You need to see that the image is actually your broken marriage, but there is a reality that isn't and can never be broken. When I don't want to be constrained by "the rules," it isn't actually the rules that are trying to constrain me. The jumbled chaos of my internal wants and desires are the real constraint; the "rules" are actually the road to perfect freedom.

You know, I don't expect my distorted images of reality to get completely cleared up in this lifetime. But please be so kind as to not try to sell me some set of theological clown glasses. Don’t try to con me into believing the illusion that my twisted visions are straight. If you want to make God in your image, go for it – it’s a free country. Me, I'd rather squint through the glass darkly at what's real than have a clear view of what's fake.