On Feminine Images of God

Though scripture and popular usage often refers to God as “Father, “ I often use feminine images of God. There are several reasons; here are some.

• Scripture uses feminine images of God.

• I use feminine images because I experience God in this way. I am simply being true to my experience.

• Scripture uses dozens of images to describe and identify God. It is silly to insist that God can’t be imagined in feminine images.

• God is not more masculine than feminine. God has no biology, no X or Y chromosomes, no body parts. Our images refer to social stereotypes of the nature and roles of men and women. God is beyond that. (Remember, God is not a human, no matter how great.)

• But, given our stereotypes, much of what the scriptures (and especially Jesus) say about God is actually more like our traditional stereotypes of women than of men: God gives us birth, feeds us, tends us, and washes us. God cares for us intimately, makes a home for us, tends to our relationships, and shepherds our life together as a family. Whatever values and characteristics we imagine as “feminine” —tenderness, sensitivity, emotion, receptiveness, resilience, fertility, attention to relationships—apply to God. Jesus takes care to project an image of God that is decidedly unlike our stereotypes of masculinity: control, physical dominance, rational thought, emotional distance, and so on.

• God commands that we have no graven images of God. Feminine as well as masculine images of God save us from the idolatry of the graven image of God as exclusively male.

• As The Cloud of Unknowing says, “God can be loved but not thought.” God is beyond our rational understanding. Images that are unexpected, that bewilder or even confuse us, keep us from arrogantly thinking that we have God “all figured out.”

• Our images of God are just images. God is absolute, but our images are not. We need images of God that are multiple, shifting, relative and varied, so that we worship God and not our image of God. In fact God keeps telling us, “I am not who you think I am!”

• The image of the Holy Trinity suggests that God is more than one kind of “person.” In order to keep our language about God honest, we need a variety of images, not just one. In fact the image of the Trinity suggests that we imagine God beyond our binary male-female polarity, but in a way that transcends gender. Yes, in that way God is Trans.

• The real reason we call God “father” is sexism (the thought that maleness is somehow superior)—an evil that Jesus calls us to work against. Feminine God images oppose sexism, and help change gender stereotypes and social roles.

• Feminine images of God can affirm women in ways that the church has not done: to honor their dignity, and help them identify divine qualities in themselves.

• We really should move beyond language about God that liberates us from our graven images of gender for either God or humans. For this reason the second best pronoun for God is “They.”

• The best pronoun for God, and the best way to imagine God, is not in the third person at all, since, God being infinite and omnipresent, we can’t talk about God without also talking to God. We are invited not just to have ideas and images of God, but to relate with God. So the best pronoun for God is really “You.”