A symbol is a construction, but it does not have meaning to only an individual. A symbol is usually a construction within a society, a culture, a religious system, a group, a people.
It is true that traditionally God and Christ have been predominantly associated with the male gender and masculine principle (a “He”), at least in the West. What we need to decide today is if that traditional interpretation, these symbols of the Divine, are still valid, and accurate, and if they point to truth in the present, or if we need a better interpretation of these symbols as a society, a culture, in Christianity, in our interspirituality, in the world today.
In the case of Christ, I think with our more comprehensive understanding of history today, of the use of anointing practices and rituals in ancient Israel from which an “anointed one” arose, how prophets, priests, and kings had that title long before Jesus, how these were male-dominated agrarian societies where only men ruled, of the Jewish belief in a “Messiah” king to come, and how this was translated into the Greek title of “Christ” associated with Jesus, I think we might be able to see why it was traditionally associated with the male gender.
But perhaps we can also see and understand today that the Christ symbol is not pointing exclusively to male or masculine characteristics in a deeper spiritual sense: that “pure Love” is not exclusively a masculine trait (and may even be more closely associated with the mother nurturing nature of the feminine), that a clarity of mind and spiritual wisdom of a “Christ” is not exclusively a masculine trait (and may even have close ties with the ancient feminine personification of wisdom, Sophia), that Christ may be referring to the Incarnation of God (the Logos made flesh) in all physical things and beings which clearly does not apply solely to males or masculine objects, that the union or oneness or at-one-ment that Christ seems to imply must include both the masculine and feminine polarities (as in 1 Cor. 11:11 and Galatians 3:28), that predominantly male priesthoods and clergy after the order of the “Son of God” (the Greek huios in this case may actually be better translated as “Child” rather than the gender-specific “Son”) are historical carryovers of male-dominated agrarian societies that have no place in the modern world of religion, that looking forward to a man to be the Savior of us all may be dismissive of the strength of women, etc.
Symbols are what we make of them, how we choose to construct them and interpret them. They are not, and should not remain, static and unchanging. We should continually reinterpret and retranslate symbols so that they are a living and breathing reality in our present world, in our present spirituality, in our current understanding, otherwise they may die and become meaningless to us, or worse, point to erroneous structures, powers, fables. We should perhaps always try to understand our symbols better, reframe them in new light and discoveries, in the light of new truth, new revelations, new insights, in new situations, otherwise they lose their power, their potential, their ability to point to truth. We choose how we will define our myths, our symbols, our fictions, our stories, so they are most meaningful to us today, in our present circumstances, in our modern understandings, in our lives today. We liken the scriptures unto us, today, so they may be for our benefit, and be meaningful to us today. If we fail to do this, then symbols die, are impotent, and become empty words of a bygone age.
Yes, historically speaking, God and Christ have been largely male figures. But what are they today? What should they be today? Do we misapprehend God if we refer to it as only male?
(The painting at the top of the article is God Inviting Christ to Sit on the Throne at His Right Hand, by Pieter de Grebber, oil on canvas, 1645, St. Catherine’s Convent Museum.)
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