Is Mother God a Goddess?
I used to procrastinate thinking through the issue of calling God Mother, just like I put off making a final decision about the nature of homosexuality. I had intellectual questions about both topics, sure, but my hesitation originated in my emotions. I feared being in the wrong. Heretical. Outside of the good people circle who believe the right things, like popular speaker and writer Jen Hatmaker found herself this week.
This article is for you if you are like I was, because sometimes nagging questions keep us tied to a post instead of riding free. Are you afraid that calling God Mother turns God into a Goddess? Do you wonder if I am headed into a different religion altogether?
Asherah Poles Can Stay Down
It is true that such religions existed, in the old Hebrew syncretism, and still in Hinduism, and sometimes in contemporary American forms. But that’s not where I’m at. I am not asking to put up the Asherah poles. I am not worshiping women or a God who is only female. Nor do I worship the earth.
I worship the invisible God (made visible in Christ two thousand years ago), who is without sex or gender. And I mean worship. I’m the kind of believer who prays for healing for her children and pets, who thinks and prays daily about how to look more like Jesus in my thoughts and actions, who cries during worship songs. I care about immigrants, people of other religions and beliefs and ethnicities, and the poor. And yet I am also a sinner saved by grace.
Why Mother God?
Why, then, you ask, do you have to call God Mother, if God is without sex or gender?
Because we have already made God male in our minds. Masculine titles like “Lord” and “King” for God speak repeatedly that God is gendered. So we have the “Man Upstairs” with no female equivalent. Every one knows God is a “He”–the Bible said so, didn’t it, many times!
Back to the Bible
Let’s take a minute to think about exegesis and hermeneutics. In other words, how do we read the Bible well? In this month’s issue of Bible Study Magazine, several authors tackle 7 stumbling blocks to reading the Bible responsibly. One is “neglecting the cultural divide.” In the Middle East in Bible times (and now), men and women typically stood miles apart as far as social standing. So to assign God the least honorable gender would have been disrespectful, unthinkable perhaps.
But if we go back to the fact that God is Spirit, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman in John 4, and not a human male, we can see through this cultural value. Patriarchal cultures, even those from which the Bible came, are not God’s doing, but rather God working with us within humanity’s skewed and broken ways of thinking about each other.
Jesus came in part to un-do those cultural beliefs. He changed the honor/shame cultural dichotomy, where men received public honor and women and children were shrouded in private spheres of shame. He said if you want to be great, become a servant (Matt. 20:26-28). If you want respect, take the most humble seat at the table (Luke 14:7-14). If you want to be spiritual, take your cues from a child (Matt. 18).
That’s why Jesus’ reign is sometimes called “the upside-down kingdom.” Jesus does not have a hierarchy of valuable people, starting with men. His interactions with women revealed this radically, from affirming Mary as a disciple who could sit at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-42), to advocating for the prostitute who anointed him at Simon’s house (see my post on her here).
She Bugs Us
Calling God “She” is uncomfortable, even if we finally understand that it doesn’t turn God into a Goddess. But the awkwardness is a part of the inner deconstruction we have to do. We have built up false images in our mind of the lesser worth of women, and the greater worth of men, and which gender can represent God.
As those false gods get smashed, we are going to feel bereft for a while. Those gender ideas are so familiar! And we all know, deep down, that mothers aren’t powerful like God. Right? (As we blame her for all our problems).
Time to think again, this time endowing women and mothers with all the power and respect they deserve as image bearers (Gen. 1:27). This is not a Goddess religion. This is justice.