She Who Is by Elizabeth A. Johnson

She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse - Elizabeth A. Johnson

She Who Is is an academic nonfiction book explaining the crucialness of using feminine metaphors and descriptions when speaking about God and the mystery of God. Historically, masculine metaphors and descriptions have dominated discussion of God, which contributed to the growth and continued promotion of the patriarchy.


Johnson is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph, as well as being a professor at Fordham University. Her Catholic background leads her to use many examples and references to images that are not used in the Protestant church. Primarily, her discussion of the use of Sophia-Wisdom as a title for God relies heavily on verses from the Book of Wisdom, an apocryphal book that I had no prior experience with. This made it difficult at times for me to understand her arguments.


I put this book on my TBR after a friend from my high school youth group stated it was a book he wanted his toddler daughter to read some day. This friend is a Methodist minister and read this book for a class in divinity school. This book is definitely a book meant for trained theologians, as there were numerous terms and concepts that I had to look up. Some of them I still don’t understand completely. The book also suffers from that typical academic book trait of discussing minutiae that literally no one else thinks is realistic--in one part of the book, she proposes that the term “God” needs to be retired as a descriptor for the Creator as that term has been used to justify religious atrocities. Like ok, in most parts of the world referring to God as “She” is a controversial thing, much less removing the most common English term as a descriptor.


Despite the difficulties, I found a lot of Johnson’s arguments compelling. She discusses how the dominance of masculine descriptors for God not only makes it difficult for women to realize their full potential in the church, it reduces God to a certain idolatrous male image. Her discussion of how the Trinity traditionally has been viewed with the Holy Spirit as sort of a “lesser being”, despite all 3 aspects being equal, was fascinating. This view is particularly harmful as the Spirit has traditionally been given female characteristics, implying again that patriarchal structures have played a role in its reduction of status. She discusses how the classical view of God sees God as a distant male figure apart from the world and how that relates to human relationship and suffering. She shows how God should be seen as a mother figure as God has great creative powers that closely follow female creativity in birth and mothering.


I can’t say I recommend this book for everyone--it’s dense and it took me 3 weeks to read its 316 pages, even with 40 of those pages being notes/references. But I learned a lot and I will definitely be looking more closely at the language I and my religious constituents use in referring to God.