God’s feminine side plain to see

A close reading of the Bible gives us many glimpses of different images for God — God’s feminine side, as it were.

Yme Woensdregt

Many of us are used to talking about God as if God were male. We use images such as “our heavenly Father” or “Lord” or “king”, and refer to God as “He”. I could go on with many more examples. But a close reading of the Bible gives us many glimpses of different images for God — God’s feminine side, as it were.

Any halfway decent theologian will tell you that God is decidedly not an old man on a throne in the sky. Nevertheless, this image of God persists somehow in the popular imagination, most likely because of some of the language we find in the Bible, which was written over the course of many centuries in a patriarchal culture.

It takes some effort and imagination, but if you are willing to dig around a little or look at things from a different angle, you can find many glimpses of a God not defined by patriarchy.

The biblical authors were well aware that words were not sufficient to speak of God. They reach for many different images: God is a lily, a rose, dew, wind and fire. God is a mother bear and a lion. On the other hand God is not a lion, but a lamb. God is not in the fire or the wind, but in the still small voice. God is in the images of birthing and bird — these are especially fruitful.

God comes to Job in a whirlwind and asks, “Where were you … when the sea burst forth from the womb, when I made the clouds its garment, the dense clouds its wrap? … From whose belly does ice come; who gave birth to heaven’s frost?” Obviously not Job’s belly. Where was Job when God pushed and groaned — in the waiting room smoking a cigar?

When God speaks from the whirlwind, God doesn’t talk of slaying Leviathan or Behemoth. God speaks adoringly for quite a long time about Leviathan’s chest and feet and skin — and about Behemoth’s belly and bones and mouth. God doesn’t sound like a moral accountant or a distant king here, God sounds like a mother smitten with her children — however strange or ugly they may seem to others.

In Isaiah, God says “like a woman in labour I will moan; I will pant, I will gasp.” God is in the process of giving birth to her people here, and it is not an easy delivery. The birth image continues in the gospel of John. Jesus tells Nicodemus that if he wants to see God’s kingdom, he must be born anew. This metaphor has often been equated with a personal decision one makes to have a relationship with Jesus.

There is suffering and risk involved in birthing, both for the one giving birth and the one being born. This seems like a pretty good way to talk about God in relationship to God’s people — about creation and redemption.

And then there are the birds. Female deities were often depicted by birds in the ancient Middle East. You can find traces of this sort of imagery all over the Bible. God lifts the Israelites on her wings and shelters humanity under her protective pinions. The Roman Empire exalted the eagle — a strong and powerful mighty killer of a bird. It’s striking in this context that Jesus would compare himself to a hen. You could hardly come up with an animal less evocative of imperial might. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who were sent to you! How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

It’s a loving image, but it’s not especially dignified. The chicken is not a magnificent bird. A hen is a fussy old woman — a fat–bottomed grandma in an apron pickling cucumbers. It is vastly different to be a chicken than it is to be an eagle, or for that matter, a cock.

Much of the world worships power — if not a powerful, all–knowing deity, then just power. Power rules. If there is a God, then God must be muscular and brawny. In fact, some preachers have begun to talk about Jesus as if he were more like Rambo than a mother hen. “Jesus is coming back,” says one such preacher, “and he’s going to kick some butt.” He’s wrong, of course.

Many theologians would argue that Jesus reveals God’s essential being is not power — but love. Like the hen with her wings over her chicks, there is some fragility in this picture. But perhaps images of a vulnerable God are important if we hope to have a world that is not overrun by bullies and corporate kings.

Yme Woensdregt is Pastor at Christ Church Anglican in Cranbrook.

Just Posted

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League met for their AGM and announced a number of new initiatives, new awards and changes in their executive committee, as well as the starting date for the 2021-22 season. Paul Rodgers file.
KIJHL announces start dates for 2021-22 season

Season set to begin Oct. 1 with league still following all health guidelines

Calvin Dickson photo.
Severe thunderstorm watch in effect for East Kootenay

Conditions favourable for the development of thunderstorms, hail and heavy rain

The Independent Investigations Office of BC is looking into a Castlegar incident. File photo
Police watchdog investigating Castlegar incident

IIO: Woman sustained a reportedly self-inflicted injury

Mount Baker Secondary School in Cranbrook.
Graduation ceremony in the works for MBSS Class of 2021

The Mount Bake Secondary School Class of 2021 will have a graduation… Continue reading

After being forced to cancel in 2020 due to the pandemic, the Wasa Triathlon is being organized for August. Bulletin file photo.
Information released for Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon scheduled for August

In 2020 the COVID pandemic forced the Gerick Sports Wasa Triathlon to… Continue reading

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Websit back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. officials watching U.K.’s Delta variant struggles, ‘may need to slow’ restart plan

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

The auto and the bike: A paean to them both

One becomes an extension of one’s self. The other offers the sensation of flight.

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Calgary Stampeders’ Jerome Messam leaps over a tackle during second half CFL western semifinal football action in Calgary, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2015.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
CFL football will be played this summer in Canada

Governors vote unanimously in favour to start the ‘21 campaign on Aug. 5

Most Read