Beyond the Box: A Personal Reflection

I’m excited to share another podcast with you … great to listen to while walking or driving!

(For those of you who prefer reading as opposed to listening,
the full transcript and pictures are below.)

“You can do anything you want in life,” my father used to tell me. He affirmed the theory of biblical egalitarianism*—which was unusual for a man born in the early 20th century.  Practically, however, he ruled the roost, and no other thoughts or opinions were allowed—confusing messages growing up. But it’s probably the reason I went to seminary in 1981 joining a predominately male student body. And also the reason why it took me another three decades to internalize the feminine side of God.

We encounter the image of a God as male in both art and cartoon. Father and Son by Hahlbohm

“Father,” “He,” “Him”—words strewn throughout song lyrics … male pronouns added to Scripture where none exist in the Hebrew or Greek … sermons highlighting only the masculinity of God. They are words that have became points of both personal anger and sadness. Anger, not because the image of God as father is wrong, nor because male pronouns are used when speaking of God. The irritation arose because the Church only describes God as father … and only uses male pronouns.

Sadness follows as I realize no one—adult or child—is getting an accurate image of God. We are getting distortions … misrepresentations … a false and untrue picture of God.

Taken from children’s literature …
the enculturation begins
early.

Christians are subtly, and not so subtly, being schooled in the image of a solely male God.

The portrayal of an exclusively male God, I believe, is why gender disparity in all its forms continues to exist worldwide.

It is why #MeToo exists. It is why girls in Thailand are used and thrown away in dark brothels. It is why the word femicide was coined. And why in many churches women are not allowed to collect the offering, let alone preach the sermon.

Imagine the difference it would make if our congregations heard sermons about the motherliness of God—other than just on Mother’s Day. 

Or what about the one in four women who have been sexually abused; what if these women heard about a God other than one referred to solely as male. Injured, battered, and mistreated women could risk intimacy with this kind of God.

Deborah was a prophet and judge,
leading Israel for 60 years in the 12th century B.C.

Envision little girls sitting tall in Sunday school as the stories of Biblical heroines are taught alongside the heroes. Imagine the little boys hearing that God is like a woman giving birth.  It’s my bet that the girls would grow into confident women … the boys into respectful men. And the world would change.

Personally, I’m still in the process—still trying to transform my own patriarchal images of God. It has taken years of in-depth Scriptural study to replace the icon of a white-bearded man with an image of a solid rock … or a bear … a warrior … or a strong, vibrant, and tender woman.

They are endless, these feminine images of God—these images that plainly and unmistakably erase the faulty thinking of a male-only God.

These varied depictions of God can make us uncomfortable.

But that’s a good thing.

For it is God who has given us this overabundance of images—both father and mother—so that we might better understand the unplumbed and immeasurableness of our God.

Is fear what keeps us tied to one image? Usually fear leads to control … to a batten-down-the-hatches kind of control … to a “We have God neatly tied up in this little box, thank you very much.”

Have we allowed the church to turn God into a mockery—an absurd misrepresentation? It is uncomfortable to let God be God on God’s terms … we’re not in control any longer!

But our God isn’t fond of boxes.

It is heresy to teach only one image of God.  “The Bible’s inclusion of so many figures for God is both an invitation and a caution,” says author Lauren Winner, “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.”

This excess of images was given to draw us closer—deeper in love.  

God woos with many voices, many images, many metaphors—speaking to each of us in a language of love … in a language we can understand.

I have experienced this love recently—this desire from God to be close—and it has come by way of this plethora of metaphors. I have felt the comfort of wings … the safety of a shield … the protection of a father … and the warmth of a mother’s hug—all God.  

Exploring our multi-faceted God has expanded, amplified God in my life, thrown open the box and brought freedom. And that, according to Jesus, is why God became incarnate … to set us free.


TRY AN EXPERIMENT…

Here are a couple of fun experiments you can play around with for the next month that will help you assess your own indoctrination into an all-male God.

Try speaking about God without using any pronouns. It will probably feel awkward … but that’s the point … God is not describable with mere words.

One of the things I enjoy doing is the ancient spiritual practice of personalizing Scripture, which both removes the male pronouns and helps me internalize the Word of God. For example Psalm 91:3b in the New Living Translation reads: “He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God and I trust him.” (A first note on this verse is that in the Hebrew there is only one male pronoun, not three.) Here’s how I prayerfully meditate on this verse: You alone are my refuge, my place of safety; You are my God and I trust You. Obviously, I’m not actually rewriting Scripture, I’m personalizing the words to make them my own prayer to God. It can be quite powerful.

Try one and let me know what you think!


NOTES:
*Christian egalitarianism (derived from the French word égal, meaning equal or level ), also known as biblical equality, is egalitarianism based in Christianity. In theological spheres, egalitarianism generally means equality in authority and responsibilities between genders, in contrast to complementarianism. Retrieved 12/1/20 from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_egalitarianism
*Femicide. Retrieved 7/29/20 from: https://blogforarizona.net/femicide-the-murder-of-women-and-girls-who-stepped-off-the-plantation-or-didnt/
“The Bible’s inclusion of so many figures for God…”: Lauren F. Winner, Wearing God (New York: HarperCollins, 2015), 8

4 thoughts on “Beyond the Box: A Personal Reflection

  1. I appreciated your most recent blog. It is a very clear rendering of your passion to see our experience of God widened and deepened. Keep saying it.
    Becce

    Like

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