Most believers think of God as masculine. This is true not only of those who embrace patriarchy but of believers generally. It is easy to see why; both testaments were written by people in patriarchal cultures, so the Old Testament often depicts God as a militant, male war God, and in the New Testament God is the loving Father. It is almost natural to assume that God has male characteristics. Just think of Michelangelo’s painting of the bearded creator God in the Sistine Chapel.
One very negative result is that, even today, men are often considered to be much more like God than women are, which leads to a certain denigration of women as not being like God as men are. But if we think just a little bit we should realize that God is neither male nor female; God is probably beyond gender altogether. Our thinking of God in gender terms is only metaphor for an entity we cannot fully comprehend.
Feminine Metaphors for God in the Bible: Shelter Under Your Wings
However, there are a number of biblical passages that use feminine metaphorical references for God. For example, when Boaz learns how Ruth treated her mother-in-law so well, he says in Ruth 2:
May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
While a psalmist says in Psalm 17:
Hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked who are out to destroy me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.
How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
And Psalm 57 says:
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.
These are metaphorical images of a caring bird, perhaps an eagle, protecting those under her wings. None of the passages specifically state that the protective wings are female, but Jesus does as he picks up the imagery in his lament over Jerusalem in Luke 13:
Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.
Feminine Metaphors for God in the Bible: God as Mother
Three times the prophet Isaiah compares God metaphorically to a human mother. In Isaiah 42, the prophet says:
For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.
In chapter 49:
Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
And in chapter 66:
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.
Other books of the Bible reflect this as well. Deuteronomy 32:
You forgot the God who gave you birth.
It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms; but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love. To them I was like one who lifts a little child to the cheek, and I bent down to feed them.
In chapter 13 Hosea is a little rough in his motherly description:
Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and rip them open.
The writer of Psalm 131 said:
I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.
Luke describes several metaphorical descriptions of God seeking the lost: a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. One of the metaphors depicts God as a father, but another likens God to a woman. Chapter 15:
Suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?
Is God Feminine Then?
Do these passages prove that God is female or at least has a feminine side? Of course not! Just as masculine references to God in the Bible do not prove that God is male. These are simply metaphors; I am convinced that God is actually beyond gender.
I have a good blogger friend; I’ll call her Julie. Because of widespread misuse of God as male, Julie will have nothing to do with a masculine God; she even rejects the word ‘God’ itself as having masculine associations. Her God(dess) is entirely feminine, which might seem to lean a bit to the opposite error but certainly is not harmful as Christian patriarchy is in its misguided view of a male God.
Julie has been greatly influential on my being more consistent in using Father/Mother God or the prepositions ‘he/she’ and ‘his/her’, as I don’t want to support images of an exclusively male God that consciously or subconsciously help drive harmful views both in Christian patriarchy and in general Christianity.
I believe we can think of God in ways that makes sense to us, as long as we don’t take those thoughts as actual definitions of God. And we should especially avoid using perspectives of a male God to diminish women and girls to anything less than full equality in the eyes of our loving Mother/Father God. Let us give this issue serious thought instead of boxing God in with our simplistic assumptions.
Articles from this series: Harmful Christian Patriarchy
- How Christian Patriarchy is a Misguided and Harmful Belief that Does Tremendous Damage
- The Alleged Biblical Basis for Christian Patriarchy
- Examining Passages from Genesis Used to Support Patriarchy in the Church
- Complementarian Patriarchy and Fundamentalist Patriarchy are Both Harmful; But How are They Different?
- John Piper and Christian Patriarchy
- John Piper Tells an Unconvincing Story to Illustrate Gender Differences between Men and Women
- The Many Women Leaders in Paul’s Circles Don’t Seem to Represent Christian Patriarchy
- 5 Ways Christian Patriarchy Harms Men
- The Feminine Side of God in the Bible
- Patriarchy, Bill Gothard, and the Umbrella of Protection
- An Overview of Bill Gothard’s Role in Today’s Cultish Fundamentalism
- Resources on Christian Patriarchy, Abuse, and Extreme Fundamentalism
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