God’s Wife

No, this post isn’t about Asherah – although that would be an interesting topic. No, this post follows up on an earlier one inspired by a student’s comment in class about whether God, as depicted in the Bible, is an abusive husband. Books like Hosea and Jeremiah that use the metaphor of Israel and Judah as unfaithful wives do not address the issue of whether that justifies various punishments by the husband. Anyway, the student in question has pursued the subject further on her own blog. The main point she arrives at is a question: should we treat our spouses the way God is depicted as treating his, or should we reconceive the way we think about God’s relationship to his people in accordance with what we think it is appropriate for husbands to do today? Please do take a look and leave a comment over there, as well as here!

I also have to share the recent post on Codex about “satan” in the Book of Job, not only because it is a subject I touch on in class, but because it is connected via a cartoon with Star Trek. Not to be missed!
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  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04144487212639973542 Bryan L

    As I mentioned in your original post (kind of) I think she is misreading the metaphors used in the Bible and making them, in a sense, walk on all fours (at least one metaphor). That is she is trying to take one metaphor and make it apply in all contexts of God’s interactions with Israel to the exclusion of other metaphors (or no metaphor at all and instead just the God and people relationship), regardless of what the metaphor is being used for in the first place and what it intends to communicate in its own contexts. An example of this is when she looks at God sending snakes to punish Israel and saying, look there is God beating his wife again. But why is the metaphor of marriage even appropriate in this context? As I asked earlier, why isn’t the metaphor of parent/child more appropriate so that God is now just disciplining his child?Honestly I think this ends up being reductionistic and a case of trying to oversimplify the way the Bible uses metaphors and then read too much into one particular metaphor that is used–marriage.That’s just my opinion though.Bryan L

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00276860017599044287 Cobalt

    It seems to me that the spousal metaphor actually gets the reader pretty far, but only if I’m willing to accept that maybe God isn’t what I’d see as an ideal spouse.Why not go for the parent-child metaphor instead? Because I don’t feel it’s necessary. Another way to answer is with a return question. Why do we need to find another metaphor when the first one is at least as accurate (if less palatable) as the new one? And I do believe the abusive spouse angle is accurate. God’s behavior throughout the Bible seems really inconsistent and bizarre if you don’t apply some sort of framework to it. Aside from saying, “Well He’s God and we’re just not gonna comprehend his reasoning” (which I’m not suggesting you’re doing or would do), I think we can get further by saying, “How is He acting in light of behavior patterns I’ve witnessed?”God’s behavior is often fairly inconsistent, but for me it’s inconsistent in familiar ways. Sure, other metaphors are possible. But that doesn’t mean that they cover as much ground as this one does. I think the real issue with accepting it for some people is their unwillingness to see God placed in a category with wifebeaters (someone we’re automatically supposed to despise). That’s just squeamishness.If we’re going to attribute any kind of human relationships or psychology to the relationship between God and His people (which is admittedly tricky from the start), the one that seems to me to cover the most situations and explain the greatest number of behavioral oddities is this one: He acts like many men do who abuse their wives. “I have the right to do horrible things to you when you upset me. You know the rules, and you should know what happens when you step out of line. Although, now and again I’ll remind you how much I love you and that I’ll always take care of you, baby.” So if you can accept that metaphor long enough to see where it leads… where does it lead? If we entertain this perspective for just a bit, what does it say about the rightful relationship with God that people should have now? Does the fact that a marital relationship once seen as a normal is now considered abusive change whether or not this metaphor is helpful? It’s certainly valid to answer no. “I don’t like this metaphor anymore because it makes God a jackass.” So we throw it out and try to find other ways of viewing him that fit better with our current ideas about what’s normal and good. I could be way off base, but it seems like this is what you’re doing here. In cases where the spousal metaphor makes God look like a jackass, you’re suggesting we find another metaphor. To me that’s unsatisfying, because to me the spousal metaphor still makes sense. It just requires a willingness to see God as a jackass by current standards. Perhaps not long-term or with great commitment to the notion, but long enough to say, “Maybe we need to change the terms of this marriage.” I don’t think I’m stretching the metaphor further than it sensibly applies. I think I’m stretching it too far for comfort, but that isn’t the same thing.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04144487212639973542 Bryan L

    Cobalt, I think you are forgetting what the point of a metaphor is in the first place. We don’t just use metaphors of God, anyone we feel like for any situation. They intend to communicate something. Often the marriage metaphor is used to communicate fidelity and purity in the relationship, meaning people are not idolatrous. And when they are idolatrous it is considered like adultery. That particular metaphor gets across particularly well the seriousness of idolatry and how it is just as bad as adultery in a marriage. When you start stretching it how far do we go? Do we start talking about having sex with God, (metaphorically of course), or having his babies, or going on vacation with God or looking for a new house and settling down? Eventually it gets ridiculous (I would say right away), and that’s why I don’t see it as appropriate to continue to appeal to the marriage metaphor when God punishes or disciplines people and say, ‘Ah hell, there God goes now with his domestic abuse, someone call the cops out.’ Ultimately it must always be remembered that metaphors break down and they can’t be made to walk on all fours nor apply in all situations. This isn’t a story about a man and his wife, this is a story about God and his fallen creation, and his attempts to restore and redeem his creation through a particular people.Blessings,Bryan L