God: Male and Female
God: Male and Female
From time to time as I teach and write I refer to God as male and female, Mother and Father, which can cause some uneasiness (spoken and unspoken) among those with whom I interact. This happened just last month, so I decided I would share with you my reasons for referring to God as female and male, Mother and Father. This is an issue many struggle with. I believe is an important issue to at least think through. I will deal with this issue from a theological and pastoral perspective, for I believe each one brings important insights to the discussion.
Theologically, my bottom line is this: God is spirit. I believe that most everyone agrees with this position since Jesus makes this exact statement in John 4: 24. The implication of God being spirit is that God is an entity beyond physical and sexual categories and confines, so to image God exclusively as male or female is equally erroneous. Neither of these images of God (female/male) can even begin to adequately communicate or contain the vastness and richness of who God is. However, each has value, for each points to unique characteristics (albeit culturally defined) regarding who God is and how God interacts with God's followers. Additionally, as we look through the Scriptures we discover in both Testaments female and male images and characteristics ascribed to God. Therefore, theologically I believe there is so much information supporting and encouraging our imaging of God as both male and female, Father and Mother, that I am perplexed when people are resistant to doing so. If we truly believe God is spirit, then any talk of limiting the imaging of God in terms of physical or sexual categories would be seen as heretical.
Now as pervasive as the theological argument (God is spirit) and the Biblical portrayal of God as female and male are, I think that the pastoral argument cements the deal. I am not saying that the pastoral perspective in and of itself could carry the day (at least not for me), but when combined with the theological argument and Biblical evidence, I think the combination mandates the use and even the necessity of making use of female and male images for God.
My pastoral perspective arises as a result of the sad and horrific reality that many (females and males) have been abused sexually, physically, and emotionally by significant and not so significant males in their lives. One of the tragic consequences of enduring such vile behavior is that many of these individuals have a difficult, if not impossible, time relating to God solely as a male entity in a positive way. Their image of the male has been grotesquely disfigured by the violence, shame and violation to which they have been subjected and that continues to plague them. This can cause them to experience great discomfort and internal spiritual, emotional, and psychological agony as God is imaged exclusively as male.
And so these very individuals who desperately need to know and experience the transforming presence of God in their lives are instead left alienated from God, shut off from the comforting and healing presence of God. These individuals are forced to suffer yet again. However, when God is spoken of using the female images and characteristics found in the Bible, these individuals are provided with the opportunity to connect with God in a way that often seems safer and more inviting. They are able to connect with God as female and begin to enjoy the comforting and healing presence of God in a way that can bring greater health and wholeness and lead them to be able to embrace more and more of the fullness and mystery of who God is as spirit.
There you have it. I refer to God as male and female, Mother and Father, because I believe this is Biblical and affords those who may be struggling with imaging God as male with two important points of connection to God, each communicating something true and life-giving about God. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that those individuals who have been abused may discover and experience the comforting and healing presence of God.
Now what about you? What do you think? This is an emotionally charged issue and although it is hard to enter into it without certain leanings and even fear, I would encourage you to take the time to think through what you believe and why. Often times it is as we enter into these questions that God teaches us much about who God is and who we are.
In the above musing I have focused exclusively on those who have been abused by men. I know that there are people who have been abused by females. In those cases the flipside of what I have written above under the pastoral perspective would be true: individuals who have been abused by females could be limited in their ability to image God more fully as male and female. However, in most cases this does not pose the same immediate problem as those who have been abused by males since God is primarily, if not solely, imaged as male. Those who have been abused by females generally have the ability to initially connect with God as male.
Each type of abuse carries with it its own unique struggles in terms of one’s image of God and it is not my intention to minimize the struggle of either group.
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