I continue to be interested in gender descriptions of God. Talking about this may freak some of you out. Not everybody wants to talk about God outside of male imagery. I personally think of God as father, mother, husband, wife, brother, and sister. He represents all those relationships to me and I respond to him within all of those as well. And though male imagery for God may be most dominant in our culture, that doesn’t necessarily encompass everything we know of God.
Those who only see God as embodying male qualities and only sanctioning male authority usually make a point of Jesus chosing only men to be his disciples. For them, that settles it. But Jesus also only chose disciples of Jewish descent. So does that mean the church should only appoint Jews to positions of authority? No, the rest of the New Testament clearly states that Gentiles get in on the whole salvation thing, too. Here’s another issue: if biblical allegories for God such as “fire” or ”rock” or “tower” are meant to be representative of his nature, why don’t we literally pray “Dear Rock” or “Dear Tower Almighty?” We don’t because we haven’t been conditioned to do so. But it’s just as accurate as our prayers opening with “Dear Father” and that we have been conditioned to pray. Better yet, God describes himself as both a mistress and a slave owner in Psalm 123:2. Does that mean it’s okay to call God “mistress” and believe that slavery is an action God condones? Things just aren’t that simple, are they? The reality is that all of those metaphors (including father) are attempts to describe various aspects of God’s nature and cast anthropomorphic form around an otherwise genderless God.
So, is there biblical imagery that describes God in feminine terms? Sure. Here’s some:
In Psalm 70:5, God is described as our “helper,” (ezer) – the exact same word used to describe Eve. The word actually doesn’t have feminine connotations, and is used to describe God 16 times in the Old Testament. Now, there’s no problem if we respect the Hebrew meaning of the word describing someone helping from an equal position and never an inferior one. Then again, if we translate it accurately, the game is up and women know the Bible sees them as equal to men. Which is good. Because they are.
Genesis 3:21 describes God as a seamstress, a domestic function primarily ascribed to females. Jesus breaks similar cultural barriers as well. He washes feet and serves his companions (female or slave “jobs” in first-century Judaism) and tells overworked women like Martha to take a break and rest her feet.
The Bible describes God as having a womb and giving birth in Jeremiah 31:20, Isaiah 42:14, and Isaiah 46:3-4. Paul describes the cosmic womb of God in Acts 17:28: “In God, we live and move and have our being.” Job 38 describes God as father, giving birth, and the womb of God all in the same chapter (vv. 8-9 and 28-29).
We constantly overlook the feminine imagery Jesus describes with Nicodemus in John 3:3-7: “You must be born from above.” Jesus uses feminine imagery of birth again in John 16:21-22 and then turns around and prays to “Father” in the garden before his crucifixion.
Oh yeah, and then there’s the nursing mother passages. Isaiah 49:15 and Numbers 11:11-14. Though scholars are still debating, El Shaddai may mean the God of many breasts! God describes himself as a comforting mother in Isaiah 66:12-13. Hosea 11:1-9 says Gods loves us as a mother lifts an infant to her cheek.
And the greatest mixed metaphor for God in the Bible? The distinction goes to Deuteronomy 32:18:
“You deserted the Rock, who fathered you;
you forgot the God who gave you birth.”
Inanimate. Organic. Male. Female. Ah, what a beautiful, beautiful image of a God who supplies every need and refuses gender categorization.