On March 3, 2017 the release of the movie The Shack generated many different responses from the Christian community. At one end of the spectrum, there were those who embraced the movie with open arms while at the same time there were those who seemed extremely suspect of the movie due to a variety of reasons concerning the movie’s theology. Nevertheless, from the comments and reviews that I have read, many have seemed quite uncomfortable with the movie’s feminine portrayal of God – many have found the movie’s feminine portrayal of God quite distasteful. However, I would posit that the Christian distaste of the movie’s portrayal of God derives from a profound over masculinization of God.
So dear to the Christian tradition are the word images that depict God as Father. For many Christians, the word image of the Father has resonated with Christians throughout the centuries. One might add that even the image of Father resonated with Jesus himself as he taught his disciples how to pray in the Lord’s Prayer – a prayer that continues to be used in Christian liturgy in the present.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
– Mattew 6:9-13
Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that the fatherly images used to depict God are the only images we Christians have to describe God in our sacred text.
In the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures (the Bible), God is not a masculine, fatherly, entity. Rather, in the Christian sacred text, God is Spirit. However, in writing about God, the writers of the Christian scriptures use limited, gendered and anthropormophic language to depict God as they experienced Godself throughout history. For these Jewish writers, their descriptions of God were never static likening God to male imagery alone, rather in their descriptions of God they often freely likened Godself to a woman.
I will fall upon them like a bear robbed of her cubs, and will tear open the covering of their heart; there I will devour them like a lion, as a wild animal would mangle them.
– Hosea 13:8
Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.
– Isaiah 49:15
As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
– Isaiah 66:13
The Jewish writers of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures had no problem with using feminine language to describe God. The Jewish writers often readily compared God to a woman in labor, a comforting mother, a nursing mother, a mother bear, a mother hen, etc. Another major assumption of the Christian’s sacred text is the soaring affirmation that females and males are created in God’s image – in the likeness of Godself. Thus, the tremendous claim concerning women and men being created in the image of God highlights something profound about the God of the Bible, namely, that Godself is neither feminine nor masculine, rather Godself is nonbinary or genderqueer – femininity and masculinity are simultaneously reflections of Godself.
In downplaying the genderqueerness of God, the Christian runs the risk offering of a one-sided image of God. Not only do Christians run the risk of offering a one-sided image of God, but the Christian representation of God in solely masculine terms makes God seem literally and only male. For many Christians over the centuries, the fatherly images of God has resonated deeply, yet one’s experience of ‘God the father’ should never be antithetical to another’s experience of God as ‘mother’, ‘lover’, etc.
Grace and peace to all,
Rev. Jay How