Sunday, March 4, 2007

Feminine Images of God in the Bible

Female Metaphors and Images of God in Scripture

I teach a group of high school students on Sunday mornings. We recently began discussing feminine imagery for God in the scriptures. I posed questions such as, "Why do we use almost exclusive masculine language when we talk about God? Do you think God is a man?" After discussing the possibilities for a while, some class members described their belief:

"God is like parents. God has both mother and father qualities."
"I think of God as a woman."
"I think of God as a child."
"God is a man."

This age group always surprises me. I have taught adults and children, and children are so much more open to possibilities. They will tell you that they don't care about theology, but given the right soil, theological discourse flourishes- and they don't even seem to know that they are doing it. I handed out the following list of scriptures that compare God to a mothering animal, a midwife, and other metaphors rich in identifying God in ways that are "female"; Jesus uses "mother hen" imagery freely for himself. Those denominations still opposed to the ordination of women on the grounds that Jesus was a man would probably be surprised, if they reflected on this text, how fluidly Jesus makes the comparison between himself and a hen with chicks. I compiled the following list of texts to show my students that much feminine imagery for God exists in the scriptures, and I believe we will benefit spiritually from the recovery of these images.

Eagle and chicks: Like an eagle that stirs up its nest, that flutters over its young, spreading out its wings, catching them, bearing them on its pinions, the Lord alone did lead him... (Deut. 32:11-121)

Mother bear: . . . therefore [Ephraim] forgot me. So I will be to them like a lion, like a leopard I will lurk beside the way. I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs. .. (Hos. 13:6b-8a).

Nursing mother: I stretch out to her like a river of peace, like a stream flowing with the honor of the nations, and you may suckle. You will be carried on the side and played with on the knees. As one whose mother comforts him, so I will comfort you; and you will be comforted in Jerusalem. (Isaiah 66:12-13)

Will I bring you to the breaking point and not bring forth? If I am the deliverer (midwife), will I stop (the birth)? (Isaiah 66:9)

God as mother: For You are the One Who drew me out of the belly, the One Who secured me on my mothers breasts. Upon You I have been cast from the womb; from my mothers belly. You have been my God. (Psalms 22:10-11)

Woman in labor:
I have forever held my peace, I have hushed and refrained Myself; now, like a birthing woman, I will cry out, panting and gasping at once. (Isaiah 42:14)

God as baker woman: He told them another parable: The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. (Matthew 13:33)

God as a mother hen: How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings! (Luke 13:31-35)

God as a woman searching for a lost coin: What woman having ten coins and losing one would not light a lamp and sweep the house, searching carefully until she finds it? And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, 'Rejoice with me because I have found the coin that I lost.' In just the same way, I tell you, there will be rejoicing among the angels of God over one sinner who repents. (Luke 15:8)

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