I’ve been interested in gender descriptions of God lately. Of course, the buzz about “The Shack” has made this a hot topic again. 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 mean it’s biblically accurate.
For those who only see God as embodying male qualities and only sanctioning male authority, let me ask you a few questions. Jesus chose only men to be his disciples, right? That’s should settle it. But Jesus also only directly picked disciples of Jewish descent. So does that mean the church should only appoint Jews to positions of authority? No, the rest of the NT clearly states that Gentiles get in on the whole salvation thing, too. He’s another question: 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. For those who say, “If Jesus wanted us to call God ‘Mother,’ then he would’ve said so!”, 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 (includung father) are attempts to describe various aspects of God’s nature and cast anthropomorphic form around a 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 OT. Now, there’s no problem if we respect the Hebrew meaning of the word which describes a helper who serves from an equal or divine position and never an inferior or subordiante one. Of course, if we translated it accurately, the game is up and women know the Bible sees them as equal to men.
Genesis 3:21 describes God as a seamstress, a domestic function primarily ascribed to females. Jesus breaks these cultural barriers as well. He washes feet and serves 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 38:8-9 and 28-29 describes God as father, giving birth, and the womb of God all in the same chapter.
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.”
Ah, what a beautiful, beautiful image of a God who supplies every need and refuses gender categorization.