God as a woman, seeking out the marginalized

One of the most popular images of God in the Bible is the image of God the shepherd. Through this image, we see God as a humble, but loving and protective man. A man who wants all of his sheep–99 out of 100 isn’t enough!–to be safe.

I particularly like this image, actually. It shows me a God that refuses to exclude the minority. A God that is not simply interested in getting in good with the popular crowd. It shows me a vision for God’s kingdom as a safe space for the marginalized.

But this image of God, like every image of God that I’ve managed to salvage from my days as a fundamentalist, forces me to imagine God in a male body. I think of God as shepherd and I picture a bearded dude cuddling a sheep.

Close enough (Yes, I know I’ve used this image before. It’s Jesus holding a raptor, though. Are you really going to complain about Jesus holding a raptor?) (Oh yeah, click for source)

Not that there’s anything wrong with an image of God as a bearded dude cuddling a velociraptor sheep. There’s plenty to learn from and think about with that image. It can give bearded dudes who love cuddling sheep a basis for affirming that caring and nurturing and sheep cuddling can be a part of their masculinity, for instance.

But in a world where the Christian images of God overwhelmingly (exclusively, in some circles) portray God as a man, I wonder, can the God who seeks out the marginalized be imagined as a woman too?

Jesus seemed to think so. 

I want to slap myself sometimes when I think of how many times I’ve read Luke 15, pictured God as a shepherd, and completely missed what was RIGHT THERE. 

God, imaged as a shepherd, leaves the 99 sheep to seek out the 1.

Then, right there, in plain sight . . .

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?” (Luke 15:8, NIV)

Click for source

As Elizabeth A. Johnson says,

In both stories, someone vigorously seeks what is lost and rejoices with others when it is found. Neither story discloses anything about God that the other hides. Using traditional men’s and women’s work, both parables orient the hearer to God’s redeeming action in images that are equivalently male and female. (She Who Is, pg. 56)

Why are we so afraid to carry on Jesus’ tradition of diverse and inclusive speech about God? Why are we so afraid to expand on the speech that we use to understand God? Why are we so afraid to explore the possibilities of what speech about God can look and sound like? 

Why?

As Johnson says, many of our modern churches’ speech about God “is poor indeed compared with the riot of images spun out in the Gospels’ depiction of Jesus’ speech.” (She Who Is, pg. 80)

Jesus talked about God. And Jesus called Her a woman. Why can’t we?

 

[Note: My Facebook friend, Wayne Beason, pointed out that even though now-a-days we think of shepherds as men, many ancient shepherds were WOMEN and some of the images of God-as-shepherd in the Bible are actually feminine. As he says, "when Jesus speaks of God as a shepherd, it's not unlikely that many young women thought to themselves, 'Oh! Just like me!'" I love that. I thought I'd share]

  • Jennifer Stahl

    Love it!!

  • http://lanahobbs.wordpress.com/ lana hobbs

    … that’s… true! he did, didn’t he? I think people should get over their ‘masculine religion’ and embrace the femininity of god. In fact, i think we should stop viewing certain traits as ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ and just view them as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. but that’s a different discussion.

    • sarahoverthemoon

      I agree. Some people are willing to describe God as a woman when God is being caring/nurturing/motherly, but that’s about it. I think we need to go even further than that. Nurturing and caring is not something limited to women. And power/strength are not limited to men!

  • forgedimagination

    My eyes about bugged out of my head. This is one reason why I think it might be worth it to keep on reading the Bible. It gives me hope that there are things in there that I’ve been “forbidden” from seeing before.

  • http://tinyurl.com/2wp4a68 Philip Verghese Ariel

    I fully disagree with these types of pictures depicting as my Lord and Savior, I can’t even imagine of such artistic imaginations, this is purely idolatry, we the true believers must avoid such so called Jesus Pictures, I am really sorry to say this,

    and I fully disagree with you again the imagination of placing my Lord and Savior as a woman, so sad, very sad. Pl. do write some inspiring articles for the edification of the fellow believers. Pl do not waste your time on such pieces, of course I fully agree that God as a humble, but loving and protective man. A man who wants all of his sheep–99 out of 100 isn’t enough!–to be safe.” Yes, the very purpose of His coming to this earth is that. Thanks for sharing.

    Best Regards

    • Leah

      You feel it is sad, a waste of time, and scary, and you can’t imagine it. But, for many of us who see only a male God and male religion we feel the constant sorrow of being seen as less (as can be seen in the words of many church founders, including Tertullian calling woman “the gate to hell” and Augustine saying women is not in the image of God). We feel it may be a waste of time to bring out (as Aquinas and Augustine said) “misbegotten” “deformed” bodies into this male hierarchy. We feel afraid for our rights, our minds, and simply being able to tell our sisters and daughters that we are good and not some lesser “other”, that we matter. And sometimes we cannot imagine ourselves as united when there is this gender hierarchy of a great HE that is greater than all, some disembodied gender that couldn’t possibly exist. For some of us, it is impossible to imagine such a God. For some of us, it is the doorway to the doubt by which we leave the religion all together.
      Before you throw out emotions without reasons (you give no reasons), as yourself whether or not the reasons listed above may be grounded in something. As yourself if you are perpetrating a wrong. As yourself if your ideas stem only from your comfort at imagining a male God, and whether or not creating God in your male image is not as idolatrous as you worry paintings may be.
      Ancient societies worshiped the sun, because it was the most important thing to them. If a patriarchy sees maleness as the most important thing, the sun to their order as it were, then it stands to reason that they might make an idol of this most important thing, just as the ancients did with the sun. Maleness has become an idol, and incompatible with both Biblical text and the idea that God created both male and female in the image and likeness of the divine. Male primacy of God humanizes the divine, limits the transcendent, and creates a false idol of a gender. It alienates women, casts us as second-class citizens, and destroys the faith of many. And for what? The cultural comfort of imagining a male God? This image need not vanish, but it is only imagination. No one knows the face of God. Eye has not seen. Et cetera.


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