We too often think of God as if HE, like Zeus reigning havoc from Mount Olympus, were an outrageously virile, sometimes malicious misogynist. Woe on us ladies, who are hapless helpmates if not also victims…
Well, there’s lots of history and literature behind such an misconception, but it’s not in the Bible! Okay, okay, let’s be honest — some of it is…. BUT there’s much to commend a more gentle and feminine image of God. I’m preparing for tomorrow’s message for Mother’s Day, and I’ve gleaned the following from several sources:
In the Hebrew Bible, El Shaddai is one of the words for God, along with Yahweh, Adonai, Elohim, and others. Although usually translated “Almighty God,” it might better be translated as the “Many-breasted One” from the plural of the Hebrew word shad, meaning breast, rather than the ancient Semitic word shadu meaning mountain.
A. Examples of God referred to as a mother:
- a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14) whose forceful breath is an image of divine power
- a mother suckling her children (Num. 11:12)
- a mother who does not forget the child she nurses (Isa. 49:14-15)
- a mother who comforts her children (Isa. 66:12-13)
- a mother who births and protects Israel (Isa. 46:3-4). In contrast to idol worshippers who carry their gods on cattle, God carries Israel in the womb. The message to the people is two-fold: it demonstrates God’s superiority over other gods, and reiterates the divine promise to support and redeem. In short, God’s maternal bond of compassion and maternal power to protect guarantee Israel’s salvation.
- a mother who gave birth to the Israelites (Dt. 32:18)
- a mother who calls, teaches, holds, heals and feeds her young (Hosea 11:1-4) 2. Other maternal references: Ps. 131:2; Job. 38:8, 29; Prov. 8:22-25; 1 Pet. 2:2-3, Acts 17:28.
B: Examples of God doing womanly activities:
- God as a seamstress making clothes for Israel to wear (Neh. 9:21)
- God as a midwife attending a birth (Ps. 22:9-10a, 71:6; Isa. 66:9)
- God as a woman working leaven into bread (Luke 13:18-21)
- God as a woman seeking a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10)
C: The Holy Spirit is often understood to be feminine:
- “Ruach” in Hebrew is a feminine noun; “pneuma” in Greek is neuter
- The Holy Spirit is often associated with women’s functions: the birthing process (John 3:5; cf. John 1:13, 1 John 4:7b, 5:1, 4, 18), consoling, comforting, emotional warmth, and inspiration.
- Some ancient church traditions refer to the Holy Spirit in feminine terms (the Syriac church used the feminine pronoun for the Holy Spirit until ca. 400 C.E.; a 14th c. fresco depicting the Trinity at a church near Munich, Germany images the Holy Spirit as feminine).
- Sophia is honored as a goddess of wisdom. In Orthodox Christianity, Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), is an expression of understanding for the second person of the Holy Trinity, (as in the dedication of the church of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul) as well as in the Old Testament, e.g., Proverbs 9:1.
So tomorrow, with the children, we will pray: ”Our Mother, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name…”
And I do believe that the Father-Mother God will rejoice!