The God presented by the biblical authors and worshipped in the Church today cannot be regarded as having gender, any more than God can be regarded as having race or color. In recognizing this truth, we will be more free to use inclusive metaphors for God.
In the search for a more inclusive understanding of God, the feminine “Sophia” has for many persons become a bridge between traditional Christianity and feminist concerns. So we ask: Who is Sophia, and where did she come from? Is she the long-awaited answer to this search?
The story in Genesis 17 and 18 of the Lord’s telling first Abraham and then Sarah that they would have a son in their old age is one of the places in Scripture where a “sin of omission” is often committed.
Intellectually we know God is beyond gender; however, using only masculine pronouns sends image-shaping messages to our hearts and minds that are incorrect. By neglecting the feminine imagery for God, we have distorted our understanding of God.
Recent events in the evangelical community—particularly with the release of Todays New International Version (TNIV) Bible translation—have raised concerns over masculine language. Does Jesus ask us to be fishers of people or fishers of men (Matt. 4:19)? Is there a difference? Should we be afraid to use words like people, especially when the ancient text and context warrants this?
Throughout history why did the church frequently use feminine language for God? In what way did this feminine language serve the church? Why do we evangelicals, in contrast, appear so uncomfortable with feminine imagery for God?
The complementarian conviction that women are under male authority and therefore must be excluded from (some) positions of leadership, rests in no small measure on their interpretation of God’s eternal, created order as established in Genesis 1-2.
Regular readers of Priscilla Papers will be familiar with those standard biblical texts one points to when discussing feminine imagery for God. We read, for example, of God extending a mother’s care in Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (nrsv). Similarly, Jesus longs to offer such comfort and protection in Matthew 23:37 (also in Luke 13:24), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (nrsv). In addition to motherly comfort, other common texts speak of God nursing and giving birth (e.g., Num. 11:12; Deut. 32:18; Isa. 42:14).
Men and women struggle to understand each other and to thrive together as God intended. God’s design of an Edenic relationship where the male and the female together nurture and steward the earth rarely seems to happen.
Only as individuals, cultures, groups, and generations grasp the equality of females and males intended by God at creation can the legacy of pain inherited by all women from the fall continue to be reversed.