When was the last time you saw a picture of God portrayed as the “Good Shepherd”? Recently, right? It’s one of the standard pictures we see depicting God who’s holding a clean, fluffy lamb. Or the father of the “Prodigal Son” reaching out with accepting arms?
But when was the last time you saw God represented as a woman gasping and panting in childbirth? Or a woman rejoicing over a found coin as the shepherd rejoiced over his lost sheep? Or a mother comforting her child?
I’m going to bet you’ve never seen any of those images for God displayed in your church hallways … not even once. At least I never have; although I’d love to hang the child-birth picture and watch people’s expressions.
But it’s not just the pictures. It’s the often-exclusionary words chosen for God in our worship songs (He’s a Good, Good Father)—the dismissal of Bible stories about women in our Sunday schools and story books.
Names like David, Abraham, and Samson are familiar to us, but do you know the stories of Jochebed, Shiprah, and Puah—all powerful and significant women in our faith story.
Stop and think about it. How do you envision God?
Probably for most of us the picture in our heads is an image of Jesus. And that’s appropriate. But what about the other two-thirds of the God-head?
I’m betting the image you most often see and hear is God as Father. For although, God is indeed our Father … and a good Father … there is a reason it is not the only image God gives us.
By focusing almost solely on this one image, we limit our ability to be in relationship with God. It distorts our understanding of God’s character. It confines how and in what ways we might expect God to be with us.
Rather than us being formed and shaped into God’s image, we have formed and shaped God into our image … or at least the predominate image in our culture.
Yet, it is God who has given us this surplus of images we can savor in our growing understandings of and relationship with God.
Just a few of those images for God include: a rock, a mothering hen, a piece of clothing, one who has a womb, a warrior, a ravaging bear, a woman in labor, the God who has given us birth, and many, many more.
These are not metaphors we often hear espoused.
When you mull over these images, how does it make you feel? Uneasy? Anxious? Or Emboldened?
Lest you think I’m making them up … remember, God is the one who has given us this overabundance of images—all so that we might better understand the unplumbed and immeasurableness of our God. Our wonderful … undefinable, indescribable … God.
Lauren Winner says it this way…
The Bible’s inclusion of so many figures for God is both an invitation and a caution. The invitation is to discovery: discovery of who God is, and what our friendship with God might become. The caution is against assuming that any one image of God, whatever truth it holds, adequately describes God.
In the next several blogs, we’ll take close look at some of these overlooked God-images. What they reveal about God, our relationship with God, and what they may unveil or release in us.
Wrestling with our customary images of God may feel a little scratchy and bumpy.
Yet in speaking of these points of unease, Robert Mulholland assures us…
“The caution is against assuming that any one image of God, whatever truth it holds, adequately describes God.” Lauren Winner
Precisely at these points in my life is where I regularly encounter something that disturbs me, upsets me, troubles me throws me off balance in either my perceptions or my feelings. With consistent regularity, these experiences become God’s knocking upon the closed doors of my life. These are the points where God chooses to begin a new work of growth toward wholeness in my being.
Join me as God knocks on our doors!
“And for those 1 in 5 women who have been sexually abused…”: Jayneen Sanders, “12 Confronting Child Sexual Abuse Statistics All Parents Need to Know” (HuffPost, Jan 27, 2017). Retrieved 1/13/20 from: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/12-confronting-statistics-on-child-sexual-abuse_b_587dab01e4b0740488c3de49
References to God Images: 2 Samuel 22:2; Matt 23:37; Gal 3:27; Job 38:28, 29; Hosea 13:8; Ex 15:3; Isa 42:14; Deut. 32:18.
“The Bible’s inclusion of so many figures for God…”: Lauren F. Winner, Wearing God (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 8.
“Precisely at these points…”: M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., Shaped by the Word, Revised Edition (Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2000), 17.
Wearing God by Lauren F. Winner. A fantastic book! Dr. Winner has written an intriguing book which helps further the reader’s vision of not only who God is, but how God wants to be in relationship with us.
Shaped by the Word: The Power of Scripture in Spiritual Formation, Revised Edition by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. Dr. Mulholland clarifies and teaches how to allow Scripture to fulfill it’s role in both informing and forming us.