Mother God

God as Us: Week 1

Mother God
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Why does it matter whether our image of God is masculine or feminine or even a non-binary gender? One reason is that it makes it easier for us to recognize the divine in us, whatever our gender. When we over-emphasize masculine traits of the divine, many women, transgender, and intersex persons feel less-than, that their voices and bodies don’t matter as much as men’s, that God’s image is not in them.

Marcus Borg points out many other good reasons to identify and honor the female (as well as non-gendered) images of God throughout the Bible:

  • Male images for God are often associated with power, authority, and judgment. When used exclusively, they most often create an image of a punitive God. God must be appeased or else.
  • Male images for God most often go with patriarchy—with male primacy and domination in society and the family.
  • Male images of God most often go with domination over nature. Nature is often imaged as female (“mother earth”) and domination over women extends to a rapacious use of nature.

Female images of God suggest something different. God is the one who gave birth to us and all that is. God wills our well-being, as a mother wills the well-being of the children of her womb. God is attached to us with a love that is tender and that will not let us go. And like a mother who sees the children of her womb threatened and oppressed, God can become fierce.

It is also important to realize that male and female metaphors for God are not intrinsically incompatible. God as “father” can be compassionate. This is the point of the parable of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). So also in both Old and New Testaments, “the Lord” whom we are to love with all our heart, strength, and mind is also compassionate—a word whose semantic associations in Hebrew mean “womb-like.”

Moreover, just as God as Lord is demanding, so is God as Wisdom/Sophia. Both images of God combine imperative and compassionate. It’s not that one issues an imperative and the other one doesn’t. The difference between “the strict parent” and “the nurturing parent” is not that the latter doesn’t care about what happens. The nurturing parent—“Wisdom/Sophia”—teaches a way, indeed the way.

“The way”—the way of wisdom—is also what “the father” at his best teaches. The issue is not that mothers are better than fathers, but that a particular way of imaging “father” can produce a distorted form of Christianity—as if Christianity is about meeting the requirements of an authority figure who will punish us if we don’t get it right.

Christianity is not about avoiding punishment or gaining reward. It is about loving God and loving what God loves. And what God loves is the whole of creation.

To love well, it seems to me (Richard), that one usually needs both feminine and masculine qualities.

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

Reference:
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.
Numbers only; no punctuation

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