What Happens When God Can be Mother Too?

Category Archives:God as Feminine in the Bible

The Wings of God

Last week, a friend on FB sent me a picture of a swan and her cygnets (babies), with Psalm 91:4 attached:

He will cover you with His pinions,
And under His wings you may seek refuge;
His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark. (NASB)

My friend added, “All the translations use a male pronoun, but this is clearly a female.”

Clearly a Female

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott agrees in The Divine Feminine: Biblical Imagery of God as Female. She says there are two mother-bird types of images in the Bible. One is the covering protection of the hen’s wings (Ruth 2:12; Ps. 17:8, 9; Psalm 57:1; Psalm 61:4; Psalm 91:4; Matt. 23:27/Luke 13:34). The other is the empowering, adult-making wings of the mother eagle (Ex. 19:4; Deut. 32:11-12; Is 40:31).

Ramey Mollenkott points out that the King James Version and a few other translations use feminine pronouns, but, like my friend noted, all the others use masculine or neuter pronouns.

Here is Deut. 32:11-12 in the KJV: “As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings: so the Lord alone did lead Jacob….”

The birds in all the verses show the protecting, teaching behavior of the hens or mother eagles. They are not likely male birds. So, the Old Testament writers identify God with a mother hen or eagle. It’s a whole new category of feminine imagery for God. (And so I’ve augmented my page, Feminine Images of God in the Bible).

This matters. It mattered, to Jesus, too, when he used hen imagery for Himself (Matt. 23:27/Luke 13:34).

Eagle-Mothering

I especially appreciate understanding better the kinds of God-mothering that the two birds represent. We may have pictured God protecting us under-wing as a hen or other bird, but perhaps we haven’t thought about the way an eagle mothers her young.

It’s been said that an eagle mother actually drops her fledglings so they can learn to fly. If they flounder, she catches them on her wings. Those are the images we see in the Bible. But as this blogger writes, if you watch eaglets and their parents, you’ll see that eaglets who are big enough to fly are way too big to be dropped or caught.

In fact, the mother eagle nurtures her babies according to their needs. Some take a few weeks to fledge, others a few months. She simply stays with them as they practice hopping, flapping and landing. And she keeps feeding them even after they know how to hunt, as long as they are still in the nest.

Like Mother God, the mother eagle patiently teaches and waits. And the end goals are the same: competence and maturity.

The Eagle Empowers

Virginia Ramey Mollenkott notes that in this role, God (the eagle) is female and humanity (eaglets) is male, if given a sex (e.g. Is. 40:31-32 NIV). This reverses what women often hear, that women represent a feminine humanity that should submit to a masculine God, and so therefore, women should submit to their husbands.

And, says Ramey Mollenkott “…the mother eagle images depict a God who is actively trying to create equals by empowering the eaglets to take care of themselves. Hence these images do not encourage dominance and submission even in our relationship with our Creator, let alone our relationships with other human beings!”

Time to Travel

In August 2015, when The Mother God Experiment was still embryonic, we went to Siletz Bay, Oregon on vacation. We rented a house that only required a walk through the back yard to get to the bay. I wrote in my journal:

I was coming back (from a walk) and looked up to see a bald eagle landing on a branch above me. I heard my husband cry, ‘That’s a bald eagle!’ We gathered under the tree as it adjusted its wings in the wind and watched us and the land around us.

I took the eagle’s landing as a sign. Of what, I don’t know yet. Later, back at the house, thinking about the eagle I saw a sign that said “Endeavor” with a sailboat underneath. It seemed significant. I thought about my metaphor of discovering Mother God as safe harbor, a place to launch from, to go out and explore and take risks.

So, I know it’s time to move The Mother God Experiment to a new level. It has existed in my mind and on these notebook pages…but it’s time to move further into the ocean of people needing to know Mother is a fine metaphor for God, that it can lead to new heights of trust in God.

I hear the eagle’s high-pitched call now as I write.

It’s time to travel.

The Eagle Speaks

When I got home, I did a search for what eagles symbolize. I mostly read that eagles represent the stereotypical ideas we have when we see them: power, strength, domination, masculinity.

Perplexed, I didn’t think much more about our eagle-sighting or how important it seemed at the time. Until my friend wrote her FB post about the swan/cygnet picture and verse, and I began to think about this post. When Biblical writers used the eagle as a stand-in for God, or Her children, it was a symbol of nurturing empowerment.

Mother-Eagle-God was, indeed, telling me to fly.

What the Mother Metaphor Reveals about God

Why call God Mother?

Mother God bugs people. She rocks the church-boat. She downright infuriates some. So, how can calling God Mother help us?

The loving, safe associations we often have with Mother change our inner image of God, or feelings and attitude toward God, sometimes dramatically. The mother metaphor helps us form a truer picture of God than using only the father metaphor. I’d like to explore three ways it does this.

With You Always

The first is immanence, which refers to the nearness of God, as opposed to God’s transcendence, or greatness in comparison with creation. Jesus showed us that He is Emmanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). He said He would always be with us, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20). In the Old Testament, God first named Herself as I AM, conveying presence with the Israelites and Moses (Exodus 3:14). Jesus identified Himself with the Present God when He said, “Very truly I tell you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58).

But most of us have a Jesus/Father God split, at least to some extent. Jesus is the good guy, interceding for us, and Father God is the distant, enthroned one. He is the final authority with the power to punish.

Jesus came to undo that thinking, because He and God are one (John 10:30), but it persists for most of us. Calling God Mother allows us to finally understand that Jesus really did come to show us who God is, that God is near, God is present, God is tender and loving toward us. (Of course, God is “other” too. God is still transcendent, but most of us have that deeply embedded in our psyche already and it trips us up as we try to relate to God.)

Embodied

The second reason has to do with the first. God is near, and God came to meet us in human flesh. Calling God “Mother” reminds us that God came in a body. Being a Mother can never be ethereal; it is always an enfleshed experience.

And it’s crucial we see God through the lens of the Incarnation, that God came to feel and experience many of the things we do, and that God came to relieve our physical pain. Jesus healed, Jesus delivered from spiritual oppression.

Jesus didn’t just show up and say I’m God, worship me. He lovingly cared for our bodies, like a mother.

The Image of Woman

Thirdly, calling God Mother reminds us that God made women in Her image (Gen. 1:27). This means that within the Trinity, there is the image of woman. Birth, nurture, love-poured-out, and whatever else is commonly thought of as feminine, is within God. The Bible depicts this, though we tend not to see its importance due to our belittlement of women within the church and in society.

The word pictures usually depict the motherliness of God, because that was the common reference point for women at that time, but the image of God is in all women and girls, not only mothers. Even the Bible includes comparisons between God and non-mothers. God as midwife and God as “mistress” (see verses below) depict a woman who was usually unmarried. The writer of Proverbs describes Wisdom as being birthed by God, putting Wisdom in the role of divine daughter.

The Biblical images below powerfully claim that God made women, too, in Her image. And so does calling God Mother.

The God Who Gave You Birth

“You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” Deuteronomy 32:18

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb?– when I made the clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band. Has the rain a father, or who has begotten the drops of dew? From whose womb did the ice come forth, and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?” Job 38:8-9, 28-29

“Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.” [God as midwife]. Psalm 22:9

“As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God.” [God as mistress]. Psalm 123:2

“I [Wisdom] was formed long ages ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no oceans, I was given birth [by God], when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled in place, before the hills, I was given birth.” Proverbs 8:23-25

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb, even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, I will bear; I will carry and will save.” Isaiah 46:3-4

“For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” Isaiah 42:14

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15

“For thus says the Lord:…As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” Isaiah 66:12-13

May we all come to know God, who is our Mother as well as our Father, more closely.

See these and more feminine Biblical images here:

Feminine Images of God in the Bible

 

Masculine-only Language for God and Rape Culture

I will be voting for Hillary Clinton, with excitement at the possibility of witnessing the first woman in history to become an American president. But I do like what Trump has inadvertently done for women lately. He has made public what is often a private and shame-filled event: the invasion of a woman’s body and person, used as an object of gratification and domination. Conversation is happening that is potentially healing for women and enlightening for men.

My husband courageously wrote today on Facebook about his own journey of realizing that sexual aggression toward women is not about his own moral purity, but about the worth and value of women. He was responding to his colleague’s story of verbal sexual aggression–in church–from a man toward her, just two weeks ago.

My husband writes:  “It took me years to realize that such aggression is embedded in the male culture in which I participated daily at school, work and church. I cannot begin here to unravel that culture but I know that we very much need to do it. And I think we can use Trump’s aggression as a point to begin the discussion. We need men to own their culture and the actions it helps to create. We need to call sexism what it is–abhorrent.”

Sexism is multi-faceted, but we can start with the simple integrity of a human being’s body. Human being? Women are human, and the truth and meaning of that fact needs exploration. Having this discussion with men is healthy. Though they may not want to talk about it, men understand masculinity/machismo culture better than women. When they name it and expose it, its power to control men and women, and boys and girls, decreases. And having discussions about sexual assault with Christian men is healthy, too, because sexism is rampant in the church. (See one man’s articulate rant here).

Masculine-only language for God embeds sexism into the pews, and brings into question the worth of girls and women. On any given Sunday morning around the world, women will walk into a church service where Jesus is Bridegroom, God is Father, and “This is my Father’s World.” Virginia Ramey Mollenkott writes about this language rut: “…because God is husband-like, husbands are godlike. Because God is fatherlike, fathers are godlike. The stage is set for exploitation of girls and women.”

But she continues, “The chances for exploitation are severely curtailed if we go further and recognize the biblical images that say God is womanlike and motherlike, so that women and mothers are in turn godlike.”

Then maybe we will all see the imago dei, the image of God, more clearly in women, and yes, in their very bodies. Women reflect God as much as any one with a penis and broad shoulders walking around (Gen. 1:27).

Like Jesus told Saul when he was jailing and murdering early Christians, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4), Jesus is also asking sexist men, “Why do you continue to assault, abuse, and treat me like an item on a shelf?”

“But Jesus wasn’t a woman!” you may be thinking. Saul persecuted women as well as men (Acts 8:3). The risen Spirit of Jesus didn’t differentiate between them when he stopped Saul on the road to Damascus.

I wonder why not? Doesn’t gender and gender hierarchy matter to Jesus? Not in my reading of the gospels.

Christian men would do well to emulate Jesus, perhaps the only perfectly secure male in history. He didn’t hesitate to talk about God as a woman who lost a coin (Luke 15:8-10), or to compare himself with a hen longing to gather her chicks under wing (Luke 10:34). He gave the Holy Spirit the role of a birthing woman (John 3:5), and indicated that he saw he and his disciples as experiencing the pains of a woman in labor, as Jesus died on the cross (V. Ramey-Mollenkott; John 16:21, 17:1).

Jesus’ many uplifting interactions with women in a patriarchal culture showed the world throughout history how men should relate to women and think about them: as human beings who look like God as much as men do. So, if Jesus went to church in North America in the 21st century, I think He would freely call God “Mother” as well as “Father,”  to show us that God made women in Her image, too–body and soul.

 

 

Wisdom as Woman, God as Mother

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if Wisdom, in Proverbs chapter 8 (also chs. 1 and 9), is the Holy Spirit. The word for Spirit in Hebrew and Aramaic, Ruah, is feminine. In the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word wisdom is Sophia, a word with a feminine ending. In the Hebrew language, wisdom, Chokhmah, also has a feminine ending. And Wisdom is clearly a woman in Proverbs.

So it’s a good question, and motivated me to do some investigating.

The passage about personified Wisdom in Proverbs 8 is controversial. Just who is this Wisdom who was with God at the beginning?

“The Lord brought me forth as the first of his works, before his deeds of old; I was formed long ago, at the very beginning, when the world came to be. When there were no oceans, I was given birth, when there were no springs abounding with water; before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was given birth…” (Prov. 8:22-25, TNIV).

Many have been reminded of Christ by the passage, due to certain descriptions of Jesus in the New Testament. John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
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Paul, in Col. 1:15, writes, “Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”
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The writer of Hebrews says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
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Jesus himself mentions wisdom in feminine terms, in Matt. 11:19: “Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds” (TNIV). Perhaps Jesus was thinking of himself, but we know that the idea of wisdom as feminine lingered into New Testament times and that Jesus was comfortable with it.
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My Zondervan TNIV Study Bible says wisdom is God in the Matthew 11:19 passage. Go figure, as they don’t see Wisdom as God in Proverbs.
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I agree with them on that point, as Jesus differs from Wisdom in that Jesus is God, as well as with God, in these New Testament passages, but Wisdom is something that is needed and esteemed, but not God, in Proverbs 8 and throughout the book. “For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6).
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Interestingly though, if “given birth” is the chosen meaning for the Hebrew word there, as it is in the TNIV, God has a mother relationship to Wisdom.
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However, it is likely that Wisdom is Wisdom, not specifically a member of the Trinity. Personification is a literary technique. The writer of Proverbs took an abstract quality that he is praising, and turned it into a person because it worked for his prose.
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But Wisdom is personified as a female person, not a male one. Why is Wisdom a woman, especially in a patriarchal culture, and in a book that is often deliberately from a male point of view?
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Wisdom is also portrayed as a woman in Ecclesiasticus 24 and in Wisdom of Solomon 6-8. (Note that Luther published the apocrypha as an “intertestamental section” in his Bible in 1534. And Lutheran and Anglican lectionaries include readings from the apocrypha.) The apocryphal literature is evidence that Wisdom was likely commonly seen as a woman.
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Egyptians saw wisdom as a woman, too. The ancient Hebrews were influenced by the cultures around them, including Egyptian culture, out of which they emerged in the exodus from Egypt. Perhaps they were just borrowing an idea.
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The predominant view among scholars, now, is that Woman Wisdom in Proverbs is a stand-in for The Queen of Heaven, mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18 and Jeremiah 44:15-26. Kind of a remnant from the old goddess religion of the Asherah pole.
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Ah, so here there may be a viable clue about Wisdom as Woman. As a holdover from the worship of a goddess, which was a frequent temptation over the worship of an invisible God, we can speculate that Wisdom fulfilled the need to access the feminine in the ancient Israelites’ image of God, which had more of a masculine bent at that time, at least from what we know from the Biblical writers.
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We can find this need fulfilled in Catholicism. Protestants complain about “Mary-worship,” but most Catholics will disagree that they worship Mary. Rather they “call her blessed” as is Biblical (Luke 1:46-55). They see her as having a special status in relationship to Jesus. And sometimes that does veer off into such veneration that it seems, from a Protestant point-of-view, to be worship.
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Catholics generally do not call God Mother, just like most Protestants. But that’s my argument: the need to relate to the feminine in God and God’s image in the feminine is going to emerge, eventually. There are several books on Sophia as a kind of goddess, by writers who intuit the forgotten feminine within God, but do not feel they have permission to call God “Mother” within traditional Christianity.
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For the ancient Israelites, the need for the feminine in the nature of God emerged as Woman Wisdom in Proverbs and apocryphal literature, as they turned their backs on the goddess religions of their neighbors.
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What do you think? Who is Woman Wisdom in Proverbs, and why is she there?