The World as God’s Body

August 4, 2013

I ran across an article by Sallie McFague that, while it doesn’t talk about God-language specifically, has some interesting points and some positive repercussions if the described metaphor were taken seriously. A little housekeeping first, since the article was published back in 1998: Sallie McFague is now Distiguished Theologian in Residence at Vancouver School of Theology (linked below).

Here are some excerpts:

Different imagery is needed in order to express Christian transformation in different times. There is a basic point here that needs stressing. Images of God do not describe God but express ways, experiences, of relating to God. We must use what is familiar to talk about the unfamiliar; so we turn to events, objects, relationships from ordinary, contemporary life in order to say something about what we do not know how to talk about — the love of God. This is what biblical language about God is as well: It was contemporary to its time, relevant and secular — God as shepherd, vinekeeper, father, king, judge and so forth.

How should we image God and the world in an ecological, nuclear age? If not in the monarchical model –God as king and the world as his realm — what other possibilities are there?Earth from space

Needless to say, there are many, for no metaphor or set of metaphors can exhaust the varied experiences of relating to God. But I would like to suggest very briefly an alternative to the picture of the world as the king’s realm: let us consider the world as God’s “body.” While that notion may seem a bit shocking, it is a very old one with roots in Stoicism; it tantalized many early Christian theologians, including Tertullian and Irenaeus: it surfaces in a sacramental understanding of creation — the world charged with the glory of God, as poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it. Moreover, remember that a metaphor is not a description. To say that the world is God’s body is to use the same kind of language we use in saying the world is the king’s realm. Both phrases are pictures, both are imaginative constructions, both offer ways of thinking about God and the world.

And later:

What this experiment regarding the world as God’s body comes to, finally, is an awareness, both chilling and breathtaking, that we, as worldly, bodily beings, are in God’s presence. We do not have to go to some special place –a church, for instance –or to another world to find God for God is with us here and now. This view provides the basis for a revived sacramentalism – that is, a perception of the divine as visible and palpably present. But it is a kind of sacramentalism that is painfully conscious of the world’s vulnerability. The beauty of the world and its ability to sustain a vast multitude of species cannot be taken for granted. The world is a body that must be carefully tended, guided, loved and befriended both as valuable in itself — for like us, it is an expression of God — and as necessary to the continuation of life.

Needless to say, were this metaphor to enter our consciousness as thoroughly as the royal, triumphalist one has, we would live differently. We could no longer see God as worldless or the world as godless. Nor could we expect God to take care of everything, either through domination or through benevolence.

Some food for thought, eh? The above was just a snack. For the full meal you can use the links below.

“The World as God’s Body” by Sallie McFague

Sallie McFague’s Faculty Page

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Cassandra Rae September 11, 2015 at 4:17 pm

I really love this website! I am a Licensed Spiritual Practitioner with the Centers for Spiritual Living and I am passionate about the use of gender inclusive language within our own denomination as well as the broader discussion and experience of God. Thank you for the work you’ve done (I see it’s been a couple of years since your last update) and I’d love to see more. Here’s to nonsexist theology!

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David September 25, 2015 at 3:25 pm

Thanks Cassandra! Yes, it’s been a while since the last update, but fortunately everything stays relevant. Thanks for your work, too! –David

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