Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Two Hands

We've talked about this image before.  Take a look again.

In the book The Return of the Prodigal Son, Henri Nouwen encourages us to look at the father's hands in the image.  One of them - the father's left hand - for Nouwen, looks fatherly - masculine. Embracing, strong.  The father's right hand looks motherly - feminine.  In fact, scholars had compared the father's right hand to the right hand of the woman in the Rembrandt's painting, The Jewish Bride.  

At the WV Annual Conference last year, we considered a potential amendment to the United Methodist Constitution designed to make a statement about the worthiness of girls and women - designed to protect them from abuse.  I talked about my disappointment in the discussion about it here.

The amendment that was brought before the Annual Conference for approval in 2017 read:
Amendment 1: As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl's equality and well-being.
See the underlined sentence?  That sentence was what caused such a heated discussion in our Annual Conference. It actually had been dropped by the General Conference but included in the version that went out for approval by mistake.  The version without that sentence was resent to Annual Conferences for a vote this year, in 2018.

But take a look at that sentence in the light of the Rembrant painting - in the light of scripture.  Don't we see what we might consider both maleness and femaleness in God's actions in the Bible? Don't we see God acting as a mother and acting as a father? Why are some people so threatened by the idea that God is bigger than our ability to describe him? (Or her?).  Our words, as you can see, don't work. 

I think of God as male, because I always have, but I know my thoughts about God are limited. My image of God is created by me and is not God. I love the idea that Rembrant, in 1669, understood that.  Why can't we?

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