Spirit & Gender Language (Critique of Cole Chapter 3): Is The Spirit Feminine?

In conversation with a few others reading Cole, it is clear that Cole largely shies away from looking at the Holy Spirit from a feminist perspective. He cites Elizabeth Johnson who argues that feminine imagery of the Spirit (Cole, p. 79) in the Bible should inform our discussions about the Spirit. In discussion about this part of Cole‘s book, I noticed my fellow female students nodding in agreement with the notion that our language about God seems to (generally) diminish the role of women by referring to God’s more masculine traits.


I’m not sure how helpful it is to think of God in feminine or masculine terms. Biblical authors lead us in those different directions to make particular points (for example, compare Isaiah 32.16 vs. 18), but God is generally outside those categories–bigger than those categories. I like Johnson‘s point as quoted by Cole: “Introducing female symbols has the effect of purifying God-talk of its direct, even if unintentional, masculine literalism.” (Cole, p. 79)


In this case, hearing from unfamiliar voices (feminist readings are new to me, I’ll admit) helps open my perspective. I appreciate the fresh voices, but it remains a dialogue, right? I do not want to swap out Biblical language to de-fang some offending analogy. I’d rather continue to hear the caveats that surround the analogy then dispose of the analogy. What if there is more to the analogy that I’ve not yet had the wisdom to understand? Let’s keep bringing up counterpoints in conversations, but also keep grappling with Biblical language.


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