Sunday, April 22, 2007

God as female.

I would consider God to be both male and female (and actually, given the combination, I find God genderless. It just seems very odd to refer to God as ‘It,’ so I’m left with male and female pronouns). And I’ve often found it curious why some would panic if God is referred to as ‘Mother’ or with feminine pronouns. First, if God created both male and female in His image, then wouldn’t God have to be both? Even in looking at the Garden of Eden: the name ‘Adam’ referred to humankind, not a male person in particular. Sexuality and gender didn’t really come into play until after Eve was pulled from Adam’s side. Then there was a distinction between man and woman. Up until that point, ‘adam’could be seen as androgynous.

I’ve seen the argument that God can be only male, because Jesus was God Incarnate and Jesus was male. Isn’t it more likely that Jesus was male because absolutely no one would listen to a female prophet? Jesus already had enough difficulties. But if that argument is true, then how could God have possibly created female to be in His/Her image? That, and if God could manage to be a Trinity, surely God could manage to be female even though Jesus is male.

What it ultimately comes down to is how am I, as a woman, supposed to relate to God is God is only male? How is God supposed to be seen in me? How am I supposed to see the female creation in an all-male God? How am I supposed to approach God without feeling second-rate?

I’ve seen posts elsewhere, and read many books which praise woman’s highest calling as being a mother. That’s what God meant for her to do: the most important job, as it pertains to raising the next generation. Okay. But if it’s that noble, and that much of an important duty, why are we so reluctant to assign the same qualities to God? Shouldn’t God also be a mother as well, as it pertains to the care of children? Since motherhood pertains to the care, compassion, kindness and self-sacrificing love? The standard family is father, mother and children. If God is only male, then it becomes Father and child. What part does the mother play? A father could take pride in his role, because of how it mirrors God. But how is the mother to take pride, or find a connection to God?

It doesn’t help that translations have obscured the feminine aspect. Take Deuteronomy 32:18. The Revised Standard Edition says, “You forgot the God who gave you birth.” The Jerusalem Bible translates it as “You forgot the God who fathered you.” However, the verb used is ‘hul,’ which means to twist. It was used elsewhere in terms of dance movements or in ‘writhing in labor,’ which puts a distinctive feminine aspect on that sentence. That verb is something I can relate to, as it gives me a means to approach God not only as a Father, but as a Mother as well. Then there’s the whole aspect of wisdom/Sophia and how that relates to the Logos. There’s the phrase El Shaddai, which could mean “the breasted one.” The root word for compassion/mercy in Hebrew is ‘rechem,’ which means womb. The term for the spirit of God is a feminine one, which is ‘ruah.’ It’s used to indicate the life of God or how the Divine acts

For men that do hold that God can only be male, and only be the Father, I’d like you to ask yourselves a question. Picturing yourself sitting through sermons for a day, or a month, or maybe even a year. The sermons constantly refer to God as ‘She’ or ‘the Mother God.’ Then ask yourself how included you’d feel, and how valued.

16 comments:

HeIsSailing said...

Heather sez:
"What it ultimately comes down to is how am I, as a woman, supposed to relate to God is God is only male?"

Heather, even as a raging Fundamentalist, I never once gave Catholics a hard time for thier veneration of Mary - even though some of the legends concerning her were kind of strange. I figured that if that is the way certain people feel comfortable relating to God, through a female, what do I care? Makes sense to me, since I never saw God as being a particular gender anyway. We all ahve to relate to God on some level we feel comfortable with.

It cracked me up about 10 years ago when the movie Prince of Egypt came out. There was a bit of controversy because in the film, the voice of God was originally to have been a mixture or combination of many voices at once including men, children, rushing waters, and even *GASP* women!! My church even publicly condemned the movie before it came out (I think I included it on my list a few weeks back). I thought using many voices was a beautiful idea for the voice of God (yes, even as a fundy), so I was a little disappointed when I saw the movie in the theater that they ended up using the standard and predictable Voice of a man... Charlton Heston's I guess. I guess the movie had too much pressure to continue with the original plan.

With that said, I am certain the biblical portrayal of God is definitely all-male. I surmised that that was ok, since he was written about in a very monarchal and paternal society, and that is how they would have related to God. I prefer a sexless God. My father was very abusive, so I have a hard time relating to a heavenly father - I just prefer not to.

And if I may extend this idea to Catholics when they venerate the saints. They have to be able to understand God on their own level - thus the idea of Patron Saints. No, they don't worship them, they venerate them and use them as intermediaries before God. If a farmer wants to thank God for a healthy crop and wants to ask God for a good rain next spring, would he necessarily feel comfortable approaching God as a heavenly father, or as an ineffable heavenly presence? As a farmer, that would not make much sense, so he asks San Ysidro, the Patron Saint of farmers to intercede for him. San Ysidro is somebody whom the farmer can relate to. Praying to dead people is a little weird to me, but on that level I at least understand why it is done.

HeIsSailing said...

Heather continues:
"It doesn’t help that translations have obscured the feminine aspect. Take Deuteronomy 32:18. The Revised Standard Edition says, “You forgot the God who gave you birth.” The Jerusalem Bible translates it as “You forgot the God who fathered you.” However, the verb used is ‘hul,’ which means to twist. It was used elsewhere in terms of dance movements or in ‘writhing in labor,’ which puts a distinctive feminine aspect on that sentence."

I gotta get my hands on that Jerusalem Bible. Heather, in that scripture you have - Deut 32:18, is God translated as 'elohim' there? With my recent polytheistic bent on scripture, and your use of the Hebrew 'hul', it could give it a whole new meaning. Very cool!

Heather:
"Then there’s the whole aspect of wisdom/Sophia and how that relates to the Logos. There’s the phrase El Shaddai, which could mean “the breasted one.” The root word for compassion/mercy in Hebrew is ‘rechem,’ which means womb. The term for the spirit of God is a feminine one, which is ‘ruah.’ It’s used to indicate the life of God or how the Divine acts"

The Holy Spirit is feminine?? No kidding - very cool. But not only that, but what looks like the Greek 'Sophia' is the Hebrew 'Hokman', portayed as the Daughter of YHVH and is all through the Book of Proverbs as the embodiment of wisdom. I am telling you, I really think there is something to Polytheism in ancient Israel.

Heather said...

** figured that if that is the way certain people feel comfortable relating to God, through a female, what do I care? ** I could understand why the Catholics had the Virgin Mary. My only problem with that is the feminine was seen as either the Virgin or the whore. As it is, I believe the Catholics hold that Mary was perpetually a virgin. There wasn't anything in between.

**My father was very abusive, so I have a hard time relating to a heavenly father - I just prefer not to. ** I know that several people had the same difficulty as you did. And I have no doubt that the Bible was written to portay God as all-male. Espeically given the lack of women in the OT.

I don't have a copy of the Jersulam Bible -- I pulled that from a book of Sue Monk Kidd's called 'The dance of the dissidant daughter.' But what I can give you is a link: http://www.htmlbible.com/

It has the Bible word-for-word, and then links that explain what the Hebrew and Greek words. It's a great source, linking to strong's Biblical concordance.

**The Holy Spirit is feminine?? ** It could be read that way. In fact, there are ways to read of Jesus and Paul being wisdom's children -- which adds an element of the feminine.

The God-name in that verse was 'el.'

AgnosticAtheist said...

heather,

there's evidence to show that before the male deities dominated history, God was actually viewed as a female. women were viewed as the givers of life therefore early man associated God with women.

there's a good book entitled "When God was a Woman" that's a good read.

aA

Heather said...

**there's a good book entitled "When God was a Woman" ** I've read it, and it was sobering. It was almost like the Hebrew God was developed as male in direct response to the female-God based cultures.

My favorite part of that book was learning that the serpent was associated with the female-Divine wisdom. That totally changed the Garden of Eden story for me (which I had already disliked before reading the book).

SocietyVs said...

I think the idea of God as father is something quite inherent in the gospels also. I, like Heissailing, prefer to think of God as a Spirit - or genderless in that sense - can relate with both genders.

I get your angst about this religion since women have been given lower positions in the church based on Paul's writings - which I think is a total cultural norm and not a standard (or at least this should be challenged). I have found that a purely male perspective on things is quite one-sided and lacks totality. I talk to a lot of women and their perspective about the faith - I find they usually have some of the best paradigms about this faith.

SocietyVs said...

Hey Heather I scooped up that link also - the Hebrew Parallel Bible - looks quite good.

Jim Jordan said...

Heather,
you are correct in saying God is male and female.
Gen 1:27 - So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

God is male and female. In male we see He is strong and protective. In female we see He(sorry) is nurturing and loving and, dare I say it, wiser. Put male and female attributes together and you get a spiritual image of God.

I think this principle shines through in a "Greek proverb" featured in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" - the man is the head of the household, but the woman turns the head."

Is calling Him He not fair? I don't know if it is relevant. The He is a human construct perhaps as that plays up His power and strength. Wouldn't get far in those days looking to a She to protect you, unfortunately.

Galatians 3:28 also points out that there are no male and female in heaven/Christ Jesus.

Very thoughtful and well-written article.

Heather said...

SocietyVS,

I do think God as male is rampant throughout the Bible, and that the writers perceived God to be male. I also think there are hints of God being female, though. But I'm like you, in thinking God as a Spirit, and thus both male and female -- otherwise, how could women even be created, if they are to be in God's image and likeness.

Jim,

**Is calling Him He not fair? I don't know if it is relevant.** I do think part of why people shy away from calling God 'She' is to avoid any Goddess/pagan/Wiccan associations.

**Wouldn't get far in those days looking to a She to protect you, unfortunately. ** That, I'm not sure about. I think many people would rather face a 400 pound man than a woman protecting her child -- maternal instincts can be frightening. ;)

I also think of God as male and female, given how marriage is set up. Husband and wife to be one, and since God is one, He is 'whole,' He is both male and female, and as a Spirit, above gender altogether.

But as you say -- there is no male or female in Christ. And that's key.

jennypo said...

I agree with you that God is a spirit, so genderless, but also the embodiment of both male and female in all their aspects. We can best understand God's character by understanding both male and female forms. It is our language that is limited - it doesn't include a gender-neutral personal pronoun.

Heather said...

Jenny,

**It is our language that is limited - it doesn't include a gender-neutral personal pronoun. ** Which is a same -- there really should be one. I think it would help religion, in a way.

Mystical Seeker said...

God obviously doesn't have genitals or chromosomes, so the idea of assigning gender to God is just a model of an infinite reality that we can't grasp anyway. So,in my mind, it makes sense to assign at various times either female or male traits, or both, to God, without being attached to making God exclusively male (or exclusively female, for that matter). It's just a way of thinking about God, that's all, and if a way of thinking about God (i.e., as exclusively male) gets in the way of someone's spirituality, then it is fair game for that person to broaden their conception of God--in this case, to think of God as also female.

I think we make idols of our images of God, but God is, after all, ineffable.

Heather said...

Mystical,

I agree with you. Especially in the sense that as finite beings, we can somehow understand or grasp the infinite. I believe we can get glimpses of the infinite, that go beyond words. I've had those experiences. But to think that a belief in the infinite means we can define that infinite, such as in male/female terms, doesn't work.

Alan Harstone said...

((Up until that point, ‘adam’could be seen as androgynous.))

Oh, good grief. How on earth do you arrive at that conclusion? To be androgenous means to display characteristics of both males and females. When God "pulled" Eve out of Adam's side He didn't make any changes to Adam to bring him into line with one particular gender. He had already created Adam with male characteristics and male parts. Nowhere in the biblical account will you find any support for such a wild leap as you've made. You're reading into the text something that isn't there.

Alan Harstone said...

((Picturing yourself sitting through sermons for a day, or a month, or maybe even a year. The sermons constantly refer to God as ‘She’ or ‘the Mother God.’ Then ask yourself how included you’d feel, and how valued.))

While I understand what you're trying to drive at, I'm not sure why it would matter (BTW....I agree that God has the tenderness of a woman and the ruggedness of a man). My value as a man isn't found in the fact that God is referred to as a "He". My value as a man is found in the way God has designed me, and the way I live up to that design.

But if gender is such a big issue, let me flip it for you.

How do you think it feels being a man and hearing over and over again that Satan, the evil imposter and great deceiver, is constantly referred to as "he"? Wouldn't you feel like the male image was being subtly demonized?

But I don't know many men who feel that way. They simply accept that the devil is referred to as "he" and don't feel slighted or offended because it is so.

Neither should a woman feel slighted or offended that God is referred to as "He". God's "gender" shouldn't make any difference to whether or not a person feels included. He still loves women with a deep and loving heart, and as Jesus modeled so well God shows a great understanding and compassion for women caught in gender stereotypes.

So, you don't have to be a "She" in order to understand the female's psyche and needs (and, again Jesus modelled that). If that were true then we should never let a male doctor or psychiatrist go anywhere near women who may need help. And yet I know of many women who flock to male doctors, pastors, and psychotherapists who feel very valued.

It isn't their gender that's important, it's their understanding of a female's needs. And quite frankly, God (He) understands women better than anyone.

Windy Lea said...

Alan Harstone:

You called the author out on making what could be perceived as an illogical leap--that she read more into scripture regarding Adam than was there. However, you aren't particularly careful about your own logic regarding the "Satan is male but I'm not offended" argument.

First of all, doing that suggests that you consider God and Satan as binary, as if they even compare. Of course you wouldn't be hurt or feel demonized about Satan being "male" (even though most argue that angels are completely sexless) when God (who's characteristics entirely outweigh Satan's) is also treated as male. Women wouldn't feel demonized if God were a 'She' while Satan was a 'she' either. You WOULD, however, feel demonized if God were treated by your church as solely a 'She' and Satan were a 'he'.

And, more to the author's point, I suspect you'd feel left out or perhaps a little disconnected if God were called a 'She' and we'd had a Jane Christ. The fact of the matter is, we did have a Jesus Christ, and the Bible is saturated with instances in which God is treated as male. Even if translations had been done more carefully to include those more feminine references, you couldn't feel left out if you tried.

Also, whether the author and other women feel "understood" by God is not really a theme of this article. How women are supposed to relate to a God whose feminine aspects have often been undermined while his masculine ones have been emphasized is more the issue here. So, quite frankly, while sex in reference to an incorporeal God really isn't all that important, for the sake of this conversation, gender is.