At CollectiveMKE, we spend a lot of time talking about our metaphorical language about God, knowing that even our “best efforts to describe God in these limited words and metaphors can be true and incomplete at the same time. We each have important snapshots of God that we can share with each other, but tremendous grace and humility are required so that our significant, but limited understandings point others toward God rather than obscuring God from others.” (from Collective’s Statement of Faith).
Richard Rohr puts it this way: “All language about God is necessarily symbolic and figurative. Actually all language is metaphorical. Words are never the thing itself; they can only point toward the thing…”
Metaphors provide a way to connect the human to the Divine. And while they provide grounding, we must remember they do not provide a complete picture of God. So why has the modern Church insisted upon a masculine portrayal of God? Not only is the almost exclusive masculine imagery and language surrounding limiting, it can been immensely harmful both individually and corporately. A child who grows up with an abusive father will undoubtably struggle with the exclusive father imagery for God. A young girl can easily be led to believe that her brother looks more like God than she does and bears more of “his” image. Beyond this, using almost exclusively masculine, patriarchal metaphors for God has had many terribly effects historically and has too often influenced the oppression of women both inside and outside of the Church.
Our insistence of God as male and primarily as a Father figure is inconsistent with the Bible itself and with Christianity’s earliest roots. God is transcendent of gender, but also identifies with both male and female. Here are a just a few of the biblical passages that remind us that God is much bigger than maleness:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child, to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors”? (Numbers 11:12)
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:13)
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deut 32:18)
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! (Luke 13:34)
If these things are true about God shouldn’t feminine language and metaphors for God be just as true as the masculine ones more commonly used?
Abigal Dolan beautifully summarizes this idea in her article “Imagining a Feminine God” by writing:
“God can only be talked about using symbolism, and even then this language is incomplete. Unfortunately, human grammar and tradition have distorted the gender-transcendent image of God in the modern church. God is commonly seen as solely masculine and even male; the rich feminine imagery of the Bible and of the early church is missing or, at best, minimized. This imbalance distorts the view of women in the church and can cause them to be treated as spiritual inferiors, rather than as equal image-bearers of God. Broadening God-language has the potential to begin changing the toxic gender hierarchy in the church. Incorporating feminine imagery into the church’s God-language will help men and women together form a fuller, richer, and more biblical imagining of God and one another.”
Intentionally emphasizing the feminine nature of God takes work and can feel awkward at first. That’s good. Growth feels awkward at first. But if our metaphor of God ceases to grow and expand, we are in danger of creating God in our own image and limiting her to looking a lot like us.
(the awesome imagery is from: http://www.ruthschreiber.com/artwork/untitled-the-female-side-of-god/)