Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Feminine Images of God


Mother's Day is this Sunday. I don't like Mother's Day. How's that for a heritical statement? I don't like Mother's Day for a number of reasons:
1) ...the pain of those without mothers,
2) ...the pain of mother's who had an abortion,
3) I don't like it when the church makes more out of day like Mother's Day than we do key days in the church calendar,
4) I don't like the syrupy poems that seem to a standard of mother's day services,
5) I don't like Mother's Day sermons that make mothers sound like wonder woman,
6) ... couples who can't have children,
7) ... single women - sometimes we make it sound like they are second class.

Having said that, Dr. Margo G. Houts, Professor of Religion and Theology at Calvin College has an article that identifies the FEMININE IMAGES FOR GOD

Both the Bible and church history use many masculine names for God: "Father," "King," "Jesus," "Lord," and "He." But the Bible uses a fair bit of feminine language for God. God is like a mother in Isaiah 49:15 and like a father in Luke 15:11-32.

What follows is a condensed version of Margo Houts notes:
A: Female images for God (drawn from women’s biological activity)
1. God as a Mother:
a. a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14)
b. a mother suckling her children (Num. 11:12)
c. a mother who does not forget the child she nurses (Isa. 49:14-15)
d. a mother who comforts her children (Isa. 66:12-13)
e. a mother who births and protects Israel (Isa. 46:3-4).
f. a mother who gave birth to the Israelites (Dt. 32:18)
g. a mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals and feeds her young (Hosea 11:1-4)
2. Other maternal references: Ps. 131:2; Job. 38:8, 29; Prov. 8:22-25; 1 Pet. 2:2-3, Acts 17:28.

B: Feminine images for God (drawn from women’s cultural activity).
1. God as a seamstress making clothes for Israel to wear (Neh. 9:21).
2. God as a midwife attending a birth (Ps. 22:9-10a, 71:6; Isa. 66:9) (midwife was a role only for women in ancient Israel).
3. God as a woman working leaven into bread (Lk. 13:18-21). This feminine image is equivalent to the image of God as masculine in the preceding parable of the mustard seed.
4. God as a woman seeking a lost coin (Lk. 15:8-10).This feminine image is equivalent to the image of God as masculine in the preceding parable of the shepherd seeking a lost sheep. Both Luke 13 and 15 contain paired masculine and feminine images for God, drawn from activities of Galilean peasants.

C: Additional examples of the divine feminine.
1. Female bird imagery. Yahweh is described by an analogy to the action of a female bird protecting her young (Ps. 17:8, 36:7, 57:1, 91:1, 4; Isa. 31:5; Dt. 32:11-12).
a. The eagle: Dt. 32:11-12 Cf. Ex. 19:4, "I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself," and Job 39:27-30.
b. The hen: Mt. 23:37 (par. Lk. 13:34; cf. Ruth 2:12)
2. God as Mother Bear (Hosea 13:8)
3. Holy Spirit (in Hebrew, feminine; in Greek, neuter) is often associated with women’s functions: the birthing process (Jn. 3:5; cf. Jn. 1:13, 1 Jn. 4:7b, 5:1, 4, 18), consoling, comforting, an eschatological groaning in travail of childbirth, emotional warmth, and inspiration. Some ancient church traditions refer to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms (the Syriac church used the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit until ca. 400 C.E.; a 14th c. fresco depicting the Trinity at a church near Munich, Germany images the Holy Spirit as feminine).


michael lewis said...


Consider John Lennon's song of the same title.

Then you will know why sometimes, using the mother metaphor sucks.

Basically, relying on familial metaphor to connect people with God is a faulty system. Family relationships are typically so messed up, no one wants a family now, nor is God as a family man a great way to augment the anti-family generation.

Which generation are we at now? Z? AZ? Maybe I should check out Coupland's site.

pastor mike said...

i think, to use a cliche, that we need to be careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water

Yes families are messed up, on top of that, our North American model of family is different than the the OT or NT model.

But that's besides the point. What I was trying to show, was that there are clearly feminine attributes / descriptions of God, let's be aware of and appropriately use them.

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