A few years ago for an Interchange article, I wrote of God as She and Mother. I provided scriptural references that show God as female–Isaiah 46:3-4, 49:15 and Luke 13:34. Each of them depicts or describes the Spirit of God as female or mother.
I got some spirited responses. One took me to task as though I had said God now endorses evil.
I was part of a consultation with other National Council of Churches members about inclusive language. Now, before you dismiss this conversation as being about political correctness, please know that being politically correct is about as interesting to me as performing my own colonoscopy. I am so not there, and neither, it seemed, were the women in this discussion. When we discussed whether to refer to God as She or Mother, we focused on such questions as:
- What is gained? What is lost?
- What is added? What is decreased?
We also asked how these same questions fare when God is called He or Father.
And further, we asked, because God is neither male nor female, do we get closer to what God is when we refer to God as female or male, or both?
We did all agree that in some peoples’ hands, use of the image of God as male is not as threatening as it is in other peoples’ hands. I wondered aloud if this was also true for those who shrink back from the idea of referring to God as woman.
Image of God as female
Is the image of God as female not so threatening when used by some, and more threatening when used by others? What do you think?
My husband refers to God as female regularly. I have not yet heard him extemporaneously pray to God our Mother, but he has heard me pray that way, and since we pray together just fine, I shall conclude that in my hands the idea of God as Mother is not at all threatening to him. He says it helps him see God more roundly.
I am able to think of God as Father. But thinking of God as a nurturing, defending, and loving Mother will likely remain my sentimental and loving favorite.
I am able to think of God as Father. But thinking of God as a nurturing, defending, and loving Mother will likely remain my sentimental and loving favorite. Or not—since whether I think of God as male or female is no longer a deal-breaking issue for me.
God in one’s own context
God as Mother works most easily within my context. And if being able to know God within one’s own context is central to knowing God at all, perhaps God doesn’t care much about which gender we use when we think of God.
Maybe God cares more about our being capable of contributing to justice and remembering how deeply we are loved, actions that lead us to reflect that love here on earth.
Inez Torres Davis is retired director for justice for Women of the ELCA. This blog first ran in March 2010.
Art: Hamilton, Anton Ignaz. White hen with chickens, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.