Our Mother who art in heaven…

I’m trying this new thing where I don’t just think of God as a man. Where I get this image out of my head that God is an old man that looks like Gandalf and has Morgan Freeman’s voice. Where I let God out of this box of masculinity that God’s been confined to.

It’s difficult. The images of God that we focus on in the Bible are all quite masculine. God is a Father. God is a King. God as a husband. God is He and Him. And to complicate matters, the preachers that have always told me about God were men. Jesus was a man. The twelve apostles were men.

Our male pastors and theologians remind us of this over and over and over until it almost seems like blasphemy when someone suggests that God doesn’t look like George Bluth Sr. with a beard. In fact, I’ve been told twice this week alone that to call God a woman is disrespectful to God.

Image

But, I think this view of God can be limiting.

The truth is, whatever God is, God isn’t really a father or a king or a husband. According to our Judeo-Christian tradition, God is something beyond our human understanding. God is a spirit that is neither male nor female. God is something that placed God’s image on each human–male and female and even those who don’t fit in either category. What we have with the Bible is humankind’s various ways of trying to understand and relate to this Abrahamic/Christian God–humankind’s attempt at documenting God’s interactions and impact on the world.

The writers of the Bible often do this by describing God as something that we can understand. We can imagine the protective father, the mighty king, and the faithful husband.

Furthermore, we Christians often describe God as an object or an animal. We can call God a rock, a tower. A shield. We can picture God as the roaring lion of Judah or the lamb being led to slaughter.

But call God a woman? That’s disrespect.

The argument I usually hear is that the Bible never pictures God as these things, and I can’t help but think that our male leaders have let us down or deliberately with-held information from us.

Because friends, oh friends, even the patriarchal Biblical writers recognized “feminine” aspects of God.

Isaiah 42:14 “For a long time I have held my peace…now I will cry out like a woman in labor”

Isaiah 66:13 “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you”

Isaiah 46:3 “Listen to me, O house of Jacob…who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb”

Deuteronomy 32:18 “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Job 38:29 “From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the frost of heaven?”

Isaiah 49:15 “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

Luke 13:34 “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

With the exception of transgendered men, men do not cry out in labor pains. Men do not breastfeed their children. These are traits limited to those with a female biology.

Yet we never sing praises to God the mother.

In fact, these passages are rarely even brought up in discussions of God’s identity.

I have to ask, why?

Why?

It cannot be ignorance. Our preachers who spent years in seminaries could not have missed so many obvious descriptions of the feminine aspects of God.

Are we so blinded by our preconceived notions of “Our Father who art in heaven,” that we read these verses never even stop to think that, perhaps saying “Our Mother” could be just as valid?

Or we afraid that if women could really see the image of God in themselves they would stop tolerating the second-class status that the church and society has placed them in? That they would start proclaiming that image with action and with words and with song?

Are we afraid that, if God is feminine, then what we have done to women in this world, we have also done to God?

Why do we not embrace God as our mother?

What are we so afraid of?

  • http://herjourneyofhope.com Lindsay

    It really changed my view of God when I started to use different vocabulary to talk about Him/Her. I think the image of Mother brings a beautiful new dynamic in how we relate to God. It was definitely healing for me.

  • http://twitter.com/tmamone Travis Mamone (@tmamone)

    I actually wrote an article on Provoketive about this very subject not too long ago: http://provoketive.com/2012/02/08/god-the-father-and-mother/

  • http://sara@coffeerandoms.blogspot.com sara

    You are right of course that God is without gender or sex, being beyond those. But a few thoughts: historically the church has shied away from mother language for several reasons.

    1. Jesus only addresses God as Father in the gospels, esp. in the Lord’s prayer, which is used as an exemplar.

    2. any view of God as mother and “birthing” us tends to quickly drift to the view of humans having the “divine stuff” in us, which according to Christian orthodoxy, is heresy. We affirm that only Jesus is *begotten* of God, and that we as created are distinct and separate from the creator. With mother language, we have strong tendency to take our metaphors where they were never intended to go.

    3. Worship of goddesses has actually tended not to be good for the women in the the societies which worship them. Or how is temple prostitution different from sex slavery?

    4. In the N.T., when it comes to gender roles, all Christians are cast in the female role, as the Church(collective) is described as the bride of Christ, and Jesus as the bridegroom. I presume that this does not mean that at the resurrection that all the guys are going to get changed into women (hah!) or that somehow, weirdly, we’re all going to get married to Jesus, but it is supposed to tell us *something* about the relationship between God and the church.

    just a few thoughts. :)
    btw–did you see the article on CT’s blog “Her.meneutics” yesterday, in re: women and lust. thought you might find it interesting. noting that 500 years ago it was the women who were deemed as uncontrollably carnal and that men needed to protect/be careful of them whereas men could be *rational* as regards their sexuality. How things change. :)

  • http://twitter.com/apeterson729 Anna Peterson (@apeterson729)

    In my college ministry, I was introduced to the concept of the trinity as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, as opposed to the masculine Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It was sort of weird to think of at first, but now I really appreciate the meaning behind these titles.

  • http://saaybesays.wordpress.com faceparts

    I love this entry. I may be linking to it from my own blog if that is ok. =) I had a lot of other problem with the book “The Shack” (poor writing style for one) but the one thing I did enjoy about the book was it’s depiction of God as a woman in the one section. To act like we can’t describe God womanly is to deny half of his creation’s ability to identify with him. If we believe we are all made in God’s image why is it wrong to picture God as woman? Love all your Scripture examples as well.

  • http://singleandpicky.blogspot.com Jenn

    Well you are not the first to propose that God is more than our human definition of man/father, Julian of Norwich and many other mystics considering the transcendent nature of God by feminizing the Trinity. Her argument was that the good caring characteristics the medieval Catholic church was assigning to God, were the ones that were used to marginalize women. At the end of it all I still believe that God is transcendent and that our language should be moving to that. If it takes referencing God as female for you then I think you should do it. As commented above I think we should be considering transcendent words while recognizing the use of the term of Father or Son, that God is so much bigger than just half of the image he imparted in humanity.

  • http://erincomptondesign.wordpress.com erincomptondesign

    Wonderful post! You should really read “Holy Misogyny”, she introduces the idea that ancient Judaism, before the Old Testament was compiled, had both Yaweh and a female counterpart, or Yaweh’s wife. There is a tablet that was discovered that contains a blessing from Yaweh “and his Asherah”. There’s also a lot of cool stuff on the idea that God’s Spirit was language-wise, personified as a woman in the original Hebrew. Really great stuff.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kaleb.marshall Kaleb Marshall

    Here’s what this conservative Christian was taught, believes, and makes the most sense:

    God is referred to using male pronouns not exclusively, but overwhelmingly in both the Old and New testaments. There are certainly also a significant number of instances when feminine imagery is used to describe God. And I don’t mean to make that sound like a footnote.

    Does this mean God is male? Does this mean God is female? No to both. I firmly believe that the concept that make the most sense, and that is most harmonious with Scripture, is the concept that God is genderless.

    Interestingly enough, if you look at Genesis and read the creation account, initially God only created Adam, and Adam was created in God’s image. God then “split the Adam” (rimshot, please) to create male and female. We aren’t explicitly told so, but it’s a fun conjecture that Adam was initially neither male nor female. And it fits with the concept that God is genderless, and to create something in God’s image, God would have also made the creation genderless. We are also told in the creation story in Genesis 1:27 “in the image of God he created them”. I believe it’s saying there that God created them with ONE image. Two people, one image.

    Keeping the concept that God is genderless in mind, I don’t think it helps anything to pray “Our Mother who art in heaven”. In short, you’re compensating for falling off the right side of the horse by falling off the left. If God is truly genderless, then we do well to focus on that fact. If to call God “Father” is somehow missing the mark of who God is, then “Mother” misses the mark by just as much. Furthermore,

    I firmly believe praying “Our Mother” can only serve to further irritate any existent gender issues. For one thing, you’re taking words out of Jesus’ mouth and intentionally significantly changing the meaning. If God is truly genderless, then we do best to focus on that, not to change the words of God himself. Second, I think this whole issue speaks far more to our lack of understanding of what male and female MEAN than to what gender God is.

    For whatever reason, masculine pronouns are overwhelmingly the choice of God to describe himself. I don’t know why that is. But I think it’s far better to wrestle with that than to try to deal with it by inserting feminine pronouns where God used masculine.

    • http://danileekelley.wordpress.com Dani

      THANK YOU. Very thought-provoking. I think it’s damaging to view God exclusively as one gender. You get people like Mark Driscoll (sorry, guys) who harps on about manly-man Jesus who really looks nothing like the Jesus I read about in my Bible…I mean, it’s ascribing to God characteristics that we like to think of as manly. Rather, maybe a more clear explanation is that people have a preconceived cultural idea of what “true masculinity” is and then they ascribe that to God, rather than focusing on who He really is. It’s really inextricably tied to the gender roles we as a society cling to so hard. God is. I refer to Him as He (with a capital first-letter in pronouns referring to Him) because I was taught to do so and it’s natural.

      But sometimes it’s helpful for me to imagine God as matronly. What I mean by that is, while many people would agree that God is genderless they focus overwhelmingly on His “masculine” traits, leaving no room for softer “feminine” traits, like love, understanding, forgiveness, gentleness, compassion, mourning, etc. And so, in an effort to help me get a better-rounded view of God, the times when I simply can’t clearly picture what a genderless being is, I must try to understand Him using the gender binaries with which I am familiar, even while acknowledging that gender really has no specific character traits tied to it and that God has no gender.

      Still trying to work out my thoughts, so my articulation may be a bit confusing. Sorry!

  • http://cramercomments.blogspot.com D C Cramer

    Have you seen Elizabeth Johnson’s SHE WHO IS? Johnson explores feminine imagery of and language for God while–for the most part–staying committed to orthodox Christian theology. Might be worth checking out if you haven’t already.

    • http://moonchild11.wordpress.com Sarah Moon

      that one is sitting on my bookshelf right now! haven’t had time to read it yet though.

  • brambonius

    I would say that God is not genderless, but that both genders are derived from God. Trancending gender while including them both seems more like it. (The tetragrammon YHWH in Hebrew is not male nor female, and the male pronoun is used for a lot of ungendered things too, so the use of a male pronoun does not mean that something/someone has to be male. the Spirit of God is female gramatically Btw)

    Both the qualities of the human father and mother (even the animal ones, like the mother hen) are an image of God. But indeed there is some reluctancy to use ‘mother’ in me too, and I don’t know why.

    ‘our eternal parent, both Father and Mother and more,
    beyond all of creation and yet never far away
    let your will be done, and your Reign come!’

  • http://mosaicsynapse.blogspot.com/ Pam Elmore

    Thanks for this, and for those great quotes from Isaiah!

    Whenever this topic comes up, the passage that immediately comes to mind for me is Luke 15 — the trilogy of parables Jesus told to illustrate God’s love for the lost: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son. I’ve heard many sermons on the first and the third, but none on the second. If God is depicted as the shepherd in the parable of the Lost Sheep, and the father in the parable of the Lost Son, wouldn’t God be represented as the woman in the parable of the Lost Coin?

  • http://unexpurgatedme.wordpress.com Megan

    Hello – I really love your blog for 1,000,000,000 reasons. :) I nominate you for the versatile blogger award -

    http://unexpurgatedme.wordpress.com/2012/03/23/thank-you-for-the-versatile-blogger-award/

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  • Marcus A.

    Oh, now this is a beautiful sight to a guy who was baptized by a woman – who was excommunicated from her church for writing a book titled God the Mother no less.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/diana.loveurneighbor Diana Margaret

    And what about Sophia?! :) Check out Proverbs 8. It’s one of my VERY favorite scripture passages.

  • http://www.thegirlgod.com Trista

    I am very happy to see this post! I am just finishing a book for girls on this very topic called The Girl God.

  • max

    canu you write a prayer to ‘Our Mother’??


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