I don’t know about you, but my mental picture of creation has always been full of mighty winds, enormous waves crashing, maybe even some lightening and thunder. I’m not sure where that image came from … but my picture was full of turbulence and upheaval. How have you always imagined creation?
Quite contrary to my image, however … thankfully … is the picture God gives us in Genesis.
“And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.”
I’m not sure where to start with this passage … it’s full of so many surprising and fantastically unforeseen discoveries about God!
In the last post we looked at the Hebrew word for Spirit of God and learned it was a feminine word. We also began to understand the ramifications of the fact that the Spirit—God—is described in the feminine. So, let’s begin today’s discoveries on the basic level of grammar.
If the idea of the Spirit as feminine seems questionable or difficult to swallow, Hebrew grammar helps us out by confirming the fact for us. “In Hebrew, verbs have gender and number, and every verb must agree with its subject in gender and number. Therefore, feminine singular nouns must take a feminine singular verb form.”
You guessed it; hovering is in the feminine singular form—agreeing with its subject—Spirit of God—it’s that simple. (Not sure why I haven’t heard much about this fact, however … hmm.)
Another interesting fact is that contrary to the Old Testament portrayals of God, neighboring ancient Near Eastern cultures divided their gods into distinctly male gods and female gods. Our God—introduced to us in creation—encompasses both genders and neither gender. Our God is beyond gender and inclusive of both genders right from the start.
And here’s the part I love …
While studying the word “hovering” I learned it’s not really hovering in the sense of an eerie floating spirit moving ghostlike over the waters. Rather … and listen closely … hovering is more correctly translated with words like: move gently, relax, to grow soft, cherish, and brood!
This is a maternal word—it’s a mother’s word!
It’s the same word Moses uses to describe God’s actions, “Like an eagle that protects her chicks and hovers over her young” (Deut. 32:11). It is the image of a bird protecting and nurturing new life that is forming under her!
The creation story in Genesis seems to want us to know that the earth is receiving the gentle maternal care of God!
It’s a story of God’s tenderness and loving presence!
It’s a story of motherly devotion as a new world is being formed beneath Her!
But there’s more…
The Hebrew word for water, mah-yim, begins and ends with the letter Mem. (Hebrew is read right to left.) In its closed form the mem symbolizes pregnancy and its open form it symbolizes birth; you can see the open and closed mem below.
מַיִם – water
Let’s put some things together…
We have the following words describing creation—formless, darkness, deep waters, the feminine word for God—is this sounding like a birth story to you?
Waters—birthing waters—something beautiful being created.
Water, in Scripture, is often symbolic of birth and rebirth. Noah’s flood waters were a new birth for the earth. When passing through the waters of the Red Sea, the nation of Israel was reborn. And baptism?… perhaps we ought to more accurately look at the waters of baptism as birthing waters! As we emerge from the waters of baptism (in whatever form they are given), it demonstrates our re-birth. We are now children of God … born of God … birthing waters.
Giving birth is not an unusual image for God in Scripture. Isaiah tells us God says, “But now, like a woman in labor, I will cry and groan and pant” (Isa 42.14). John tells us those who believe are children of God “… born not of flesh … but born of God” (Jn 1:13).
It is God who brings forth life … who labors to bring forth new life!
It’s not about body parts or reproductive functions. “Feminine energy is connected with fertility, but again, doesn’t need to be reduced to human reproduction. Growth, whether it’s spiritual, physical, or emotional, celebrates a feminine energy in that we give life to something that was not there before.”
So, if Scripture is God’s self-revelation … helping us to better understand and be in relationship with God, then what do you think God wants us to understand from this passage? What is it about God that is so important it is revealed to us in the very first verses of the entire Bible?
Here’s what I think …
The creation story is a love story!
It’s a true love story as our God gently sways, hovering, rocking back and forth, cradling this newly born creation—earth.
I believe Scripture is clearly teaching us there is a tender side to God that only the metaphor of a mother can reveal. Motherhood, the feminine, they do not define God; these similes just give us a better way to understand the whole character of our God.
I believe the creation story is in Scripture not only to tell us how our world was created, but perhaps more importantly, to help us know that as part of that creation, we are loved. We are coddled in the warm and caring arms of God—like those of a mother who looks into the eyes of her newborn and smiles.
If this information is new to you, it’s worth asking why? Why haven’t you or I heard this before? Why haven’t we been taught about the Spirit of God, about hovering, about waters of new life?
Whether you’ve thought about these traits of God before or not, I encourage you to share these insights about the whole character of God with someone else … maybe the next time you’re teaching Sunday school … maybe with your small group … your children or grandchildren … your pastor … anybody … so that others don’t have to ask why they have never heard about the feminine in God.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
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.
“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.
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.
Femicide: “The misogynous killing of women by men motivated by hatred, contempt, pleasure, or a sense of ownership, rooted in historically unequal power relations between women and men.”
But are we so naïve as to think a clear disdain for women would not be the result when most of Christianity—consciously or unconsciously—teaches, quite frankly, that the greatest power of all has a penis?
Confronting the image of a solely male-gendered God is, I believe, what will finally change the system, the Church, and the world. For who could scorn a woman if churches taught God is like a woman who lost a coin as often as they taught God is like a good shepherd? And who would dare to condescend to a woman if we are taught that we are looking into the face of God.
Male and female … made in the image.
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.
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
I’m excited to share the first podcast (or audio blog) with you! A number of you requested an audio version … (great to listen to while walking or driving) … so here’s my first attempt! LOTS of grace please—it was a huge learning curve! 😀 Hopefully, I’ll be able to do a podcast version of a post occasionally, but let me know your thoughts below. We’re in this together!