Images of God — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Images of God

God as Us: Week

Images of God
Monday, November 6, 2017

In the image of God they were created, male and female God created them. —Genesis 1:27

We are sacred images or incarnations of God. Some might wonder if it’s appropriate to apply the term sacred to gender. What makes anything “sacred” anyway? When we call something sacred, we normally mean that it connects us directly to the divine, to the transcendent, to our soul, or quite simply to God. [1] God is beyond gender, of course. Yet Genesis says that both male and female are included in “the image of God” (1:27). In fact, the Bible uses both genders to illustrate God. In that light, I’d like to share these insights that Marcus Borg (1942-2015), an excellent New Testament scholar and theologian, drew from his study of Scripture.

The Bible is filled with images of God, metaphors for the sacred. The biblical commandment to make no graven images of God obviously did not mean avoiding word-images. But it does mean that no one of these should be “carved in stone”—that is, made absolute.

Yet within “common Christianity,” by which I mean what most Christians took for granted and shared in common not so long ago, male images of God have often been absolutized. God is “father,” “king,” and “lord.” Enshrined in the Lord’s Prayer and the creeds, male images dominate much of Christian liturgy and hymnody.

But the Bible includes many metaphors for God that are not male. Some are beyond gender because they do not image God in human form. God is like fire, light, a rock, wind, breath, spirit.

Even when God is imaged in human form, the person-like metaphor is sometimes female. Of course, most of the time the person-like imagery is male; both the Old and New Testaments [Hebrew and Christian Scriptures] come from patriarchal cultures. Given this, it is remarkable that the Bible uses female imagery for God at all.

For example, “El Shaddai,” one of the Hebrew names of God, is most often translated into English as “God Almighty.” But its linguistic roots suggest that it meant “breasted God”—God as “mother,” not “father.” Another example: God is “womb-like.” Old Testament scholar Phyllis Trible convincingly argues that Jeremiah 31:20, in which God remembers Israel, should be translated, “My womb trembles for him; I will truly show motherly-compassion on him.”

And (Richard here, with my own example) if we still miss the point, the prophet Jeremiah reminds us: “For YHWH is creating a new thing upon the earth: a woman [God] will seek and protect a man [collective humanity]” (31:22).

Gateway to Silence:
I am created in God’s image.

[1] Richard Rohr, “What Do We Mean by the ‘Sacred’ Character of Gender?” Radical Grace, vol. 24, no.1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), 3.

Taken from Marcus Borg, “Female Images of God in the Bible,” Radical Grace, vol. 24, no. 1 (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2011), 4.

Image credit: Young Woman, Juarez, Mexico, 2009. CAC archives.
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