Women’s studies classes in college introduced me to the idea of feminine images of God/goddess. Frankly, I hadn’t really much thought about it up to that point. God was simply not an idea that I much related to, since God seemed to be distant, vague, and to alternate unpredictably between benevolent and judgmental. But a mother God, a God with a (metaphorical) lap to sit in, a God who was one with the earth and fertility and creativity, that kind of God started to sound like something I could relate to.
It wasn’t until much later, when I became a parent myself, that I realized that the whole Mother God/Father God split was patently unfair to men. The Father God I heard about from conservative Christians was a punitive, “wait ‘til your father gets home” kind of God, whose kindness was at a distance and whose judgment was close. It’s one version of being a father, and perhaps the version that is still popular amongst those who hold to this theology. But I know a whole lot of dads who are loving, nurturing, reliable and supportive. It turns out that the image of a Father God is less the problem for me than the kind of dictatorial father that that God is supposed to be. For what it’s worth, given that Jesus addressed God as “Abba,” the Aramaic equivalent of “Daddy,” it’s a pretty good bet that Jesus didn’t have a distant 1950’s God in mind either.
The Women’s Movement didn’t just give us the notion of a feminine image of the divine. It also gave us a revised understanding of what it means to be a parent. After years of recoiling from the notion of a Father God, maybe I’m ready to embrace the idea of a Father/Mother God who is the kind of parent that I aspire to be: a parent with ample love and reasonable limits, who tries to instill my values but knows that ultimately, my child will need to choose for herself, according to her own experience and view of the world. That kind of a God would value exploration and creativity above blindly following a narrow set of rules, and would ask “did you have fun?” rather than “did you win?” about my activities and endeavors. That kind of God would treasure my individual quirks, but encourage me to work through my failings to become more responsible, more compassionate, more aware of others and what I could do to improve life for those around me and the world as a whole.
That’s not the kind of God I see preached by people who disapprove of contraception and Gay people and a woman’s right to control her own body. But I look around at so many women and men I know who are terrific parents, and I think that maybe God is alive in the world after all.
Rev. Dr. Lynn Ungar is minister for lifespan learning of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. (www.QuestForMeaning.org)