Images of God

The Issue

On any given Sunday, God is almost always named in male terms, even though Scripture proclaims that women and men are both made in God’s image.

What it Tells Our Daughters

Might our daughters conclude that God is male and they are not made in God’s image? Might they conclude that they are secondary, derivative, less than men?

Building a Church for Our Daughters

Draw upon and express in public worship the abundant, diverse expressions of God in our Scripture and Tradition.

Words matter.  They are a human way of wrestling with and expressing God’s constant search for our hearts.  They tell the stories of God’s “beyondness,” God’s transcendence, God’s Mystery.  At the same time, they speak of God’s intimacy with us, closer than our very own skin.  They often draw upon images, out of human experience, imagination, history and culture.  Whether from the Psalmists and prophets of old, or from Jesus – in his parables – they usually speak of God by analogy.  Thus, God is like … a rock … my light and my salvation … a good shepherd.  Meaning, God is solid like a rock … and God is not a rock.  The Holy One is always more.

     Scriptural images are boundless.  Yet, as Scripture scholar Sandra Schneiders points out (in Women and the Word), we seem to have a paralysis of imagination, when it comes to speaking about God.  She maintains (p. 10) that many “theologically well informed people of both sexes have insisted vehemently on the maintenance of exclusively male language for God in public prayer….  To imagine God or to speak to God as feminine does not simply change the God image for these people; it destroys it.”  Does it matter that Jesus (in Luke’s “lost and found chapter” 15) speaks about God as good shepherd, housewife on a determined search for one lost silver coin, or prodigal (wastefully loving) father?  No.  We almost never hear about the woman sandwiched in.  Does it matter that the annoying widow who persists in seeking justice from the unjust judge (Luke 18:1-8) is the true divine figure in this story?  No.  How many have ever heard the story preached in this way? 

     And yet there’s even more.  Take Wisdom, for example.  She appears for the first time in the Book of Proverbs, put together after the devastating experience of the Babylonian Captivity, some 550 years before Jesus.  Where was God to be found, if the king was gone and the Temple destroyed?  Who could serve as a link to the God who had seemingly abandoned them?  Perhaps a woman, like one of the great mothers of Israel.  (See chapter 31, an ode to the ideal wife and mother.)  This Woman of Wisdom would develop over 400 years into “a breath of the power of God… a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.”  (See Wisdom 7:25, 26.)  Moreover, in that same book, the God of the Exodus was named She, Wisdom, leading the people through the Red Sea out of slavery and into freedom (10:15-21).  Now that’s a passage we never hear proclaimed in worship!  That’s the God that Elizabeth Johnson explores in her magnificent work, She Who Is.            

     Fast forward through our Tradition to three of our great mystics and saints, who have been declared Doctors of the Church.  12th century Hildegard of Bingen, surrounded by the lush, green beauty of her native Rhineland, continually spoke about the “juiciness” of God.  14th century Catherine of Siena overflowed with names for God: her Sweet First Truth, O mad lover!, Boundless love, Fire ever burning, and Fire that never goes out.  Teresa of Avila, rooted in 16th century Spain, commonly called God “Your Majesty.”  In our day, science is opening up new avenues to the Divine, which recent Popes find consistent with faith.  God is the Creating Energy of the Big Bang, as well as the energy behind and within every living being, still beyond imagining, and yet still intensely intimate.  What words will express this God who continually beckons us forward, from the horizon?  

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