>God as She – Some people get upset if others refer to God as ‘she’ when they are talking.
and I kind of see why, as I think I use to be one of the one that would twinge, but in the end I just chalked it up to the person either wanting be novel and cutting edge, or irreverent and challenging.
But there are two things that that come out of the Bible that have made me reconsider this
(and a third thing out of church history that almost convinced me).
The first thing to notice is that God is bigger than gender definitions or human parameters that we have. In the beginning, it says, he made them male and female, he made them in his image: both male and female are in God’s image. If we were to draw a Venn Diagram (those overlapping circles) and put “male” in one circle (yellow) and “female” in the blue, we would notice two things right away: first, there is an overlapping section (let’s call it ‘green’) of share traits between the genders and this is shared humanity. In my opinion, this green section is very large as I think that males and females have more in common as human than they do that is distinct to their gender.
But it is the next thing that really makes you think. Not only would you have these three categories of Human, Male and Female but you would also have a fourth category called ‘other’ or ‘none of the above’ and that is the area around the two circles. This represents the things that are true about God that are not contained in humanity. Because I think that we could all agree that God is bigger than God’s creation and that saying ‘God’ is not just saying ‘human’ loudly. God is not just the collection of all our best hopes projected onto the heavens. So while God made them – male and female – in the image of God , God is not entirely defined by what they show or reveal about God. While they reveal something about what it is ultimately true, what is ultimately true is not shown in it’s totality in them.
Women are created in the image of God. Men are created in the image of God. Humans show some of what God is like, but God is not only or entirely found in or defined by what we see in humans.
The second thing to notice in the Bible is that the authors used masculine pronouns when talking about God and even where the original language might gender neutral the translators into English went ahead and used the masculine ‘He’. Now some people let it rest there and say ‘Jesus called God “father” and that is enough for me’ as there capstone. Cased closed. Period.
It is also interesting to notice what else the Bible calls God. More than 40 times the Bible says that God is a rock. It is interesting because we would not say that God is a cold inanimate object. We don’t think that God is actually a rock! We know that is metaphor, it is a word picture, a language device – some call it ‘Theo-poetics’ or the way we talk about God. The Bible also says clearly that ‘God is light’ (1 John 1:5) but we don’t think that the Sun is God. We don’t flip the light switch on and say ‘oh God is in the room’. It is a metaphor – a word picture. It’s how we talk about God. It is not revealing the totality of what is true about God. Other places in scripture talk about God having wings (5 times in the Psalms alone) but we don’t think that God is a bird. We don’t have hearing about what kind of feathers God’s wings are adorned with. There are not denominations that insist on pictures of God being in flight and others that prefer the flightless picture of the penguin version of God. Come on -that would be silly. It is a word picture – it is metaphor – it is the way that we talk about God. So we understand these as cultural expressions of different conceptions of God in their language. Yes God is Father , just like God is a rock. But God is not actually a rock! and that Rock is not God. It is Theo-poetics. Yes, God is light – but God is not actually defined in totality by light. It is a world picture. I could add tons of more examples and I’m not trying to get ridiculous, but if we hold too tightly to these, we have a picture of the Rock Father flying with his wings at the speed of light – or something.
We all know, at some level, that this is the gift of language. It allows us to use comparatives (whether metaphors or parables) to say ‘I will use this thing that you know to tell you something that you don’t know.’ That is the message.
Bottom Line : God is bigger than our conception of God and it not totally defined by our ability to conceptualize or communicate it.
Some people are going to object. They are going to say
A)the Bible reveals God as male and
B)B) when Jesus came, he came as a man. (a big ole’ hairy man)
But I would just like to point out that A) the Bible is the expression of a culture and time. It is a story and not everything in that story is good. Sometimes God’s people do things that God is not sanctioning or validating. It is simply telling us what people in that time and place thought. It was a very patriarchal society and some of the views express that. We need to be careful we don’t make women second class citizens in our churches and families BECAUSE they were when the Bible was written. If we do that, we might be missing the entire trajectory of the story: that redemption…and restoration… and reconciliation had come to earth and that after the veil was torn in two (the first symbol of what was to come) and then the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. and the people of God were dispersed (Diaspora) – they were not to import the old order but to initiate a new order. That would even outgrow that Apostles writings (the Epistles) as this message crossed rivers and into new lands it was to invite the Kingdom ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Unfortunately – it got co-opted by actual Kings and brought into the kind of hierarchy and authority structures that earthly Kingdoms are defined by and built upon.
But that is a story for a different day.
B) As far as Jesus coming as a man… well – that is really something worth considering!
Stop and think about why that might be so important.
Is it because God is a man? No – we know that everything that is feminine is also found in God.
Is it simply cultural? No, I think that is too simple and misses that point entirely.
Could it be that Jesus came as a man to give us new model for masculine?
An invitation to a different way to be a man?
The possibility for a new picture of humanity?
I think that it is noteworthy that if Jesus came as a women and did the sort of things that he did in the culture to which he came, two things would have happened. A lot of people would not have even noticed. Women were expected to serve and take care of the hurting and be compassionate. Most people would not even have marked how remarkable it was that God had come as a parable – to use something we know in order to show us something that we did not know.
Some people would have confused the message and would have focused on the fact that God was female and would certainly elevated Female to god and began to worship the feminine. Missing that that too was a metaphor and would have thought that it was the message. This was a common conception the cultures all around Israel- Babylon to the East, Egypt to the South West and Greece & Rome to the North West. This was actually a real danger in that region in ancient times.
I think that it is significant to note two things about Jesus in this regard:
1) The gospels record at least 4 significant interactions with women. In all four of these cases, Jesus challenged or broke the cultural expectations, boundaries and barriers. He clearly was not that interested in reinforcing, maintaining or even abiding by the gender categories of his culture. (see John 4, Luke 10, Luke 7, John 12 – Mark 14- Matt 26)
2) Jesus’ radical non-violence, his heart for service (I came not to be served but to serve Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28) his use of mother hen imagery “Oh Jerusalem Jerusalem how I longed to gather your children like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings” Matthew 23:37) borrowed from the prophets, and so many other examples portray Jesus as a different sort of man. It is actually a portrayal that gets some people quite riled up. I have actually heard two different pastors – both nationally famous – say recently that this portrayal of Jesus bothers them. One said that if Jesus had come as a women and did the sorts of things that he is reported to have done, most people would not have thought much of it. That is what we, generally speaking, expect from women : self sacrifice, service, etc. I don’t think that he meant it in a bad way. The other guy however… said that he hates the modern portrayal of Jesus as an effeminate and the bottom line is that he can not worship someone that he could beat up.
Here is the thing. This isn’t the 1600’s anymore. You just can’t pine for the old days and claim that you are being faithful to traditions of the faith. The core of this religion we call Christianity is this thing called the Incarnation. It is a manifestation of God in a given place in a specific time. We have to manifest that message in this place at this time… and Jesus modeled for us how to do that. He not only showed us what God is like, told us what God values but he released us to do the same in our context in our community.
Having said all of that, I close with this. Women are made in the image of God. They show something amazing about God. They are not second class citizens.
God values women just as much as a man. Sure, our physiology is different. Biologically there is uniqueness. We have different parts. We play different roles sometimes… but in the end – with generalities aside – every human contains, reflects or portrays the Image of God (choose you language). God created them , male and female, in God’s image. Yes, the Bible may use the masculine pronoun in reference to God. and we can debate if that was cultural or if that was simply limitation of language. But in that debate – to say that God is Father is no more of less true than saying that God is a rock or that God is light or that God has wings or that God is love or – if someone were so inclined – saying that the Great I Am is not the great unknown but is instead – She who Is… That the I am who I am and the Un-namable Ground of All Being is one and the same with ______ . Whatever language you choose… is no more true of false than saying that “Jesus lives in my heart” or that “God is on the throne” or whatever else you want to say.
In the end this is Theo-poetics (at some level).
This is metaphor and parable and word picture.
These are not exact formulations or legal expression of definitions in their totality.
God is a much a Mother as He is a Father. My mother is as good a picture for me of what God is like as my father is. My wife is far more like God than I am – and anyone who knows me will know that that is true.
We are missing something about God because of the way we think about God.
Our communities are missing something because of the way we talk about God.
Our world is missing something that it desperately needs because of the way that we think and talk about God.
So in summary :
God is bigger than God’s creation.
God is bigger than our conception of God.
God is not defined by or contained in our ability to talk about God.
I look forward to hearing from you on this. I welcome you posts, emails and comments.