For years, I imagined God to be an old guy with a beard, a deep voice, and a son. There was no place in my visualization for something other than male images. I did not see anything like me or my sisters in the godhead. In fact, I thought it was blasphemous to even consider God in a feminine way. I was taught that men represented God’s authority and his action in the world. Because of my crooked imagination, I believed that God had created women as a support role for what he was doing through the men. I could not imagine the part I could play as a full representative of God. My incorrect imagination held me back. Because I didn’t see God correctly, it changed how I followed God.
Imagination is trained by images.
Our imagination is a powerful influence on our beliefs, emotions, and ability to act. For instance, the 1960’s television show Star Trek altered the imaginations of many Americans about African American women. Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, played Lieutenant Uhura. In a time when black women were limited in society, Nichols’ part helped many people to envision one in a leadership role. Notably, Whoopi Goldberg, another African American actor and comedian, was influenced by Nichols. She remembers that she was nine when she first saw Nichols’ Uhura on TV. She says that she went screaming through the house for her mother,
“Come quick, come quick. There’s a black lady on TV and she ain’t no maid.”
Nichols helped many black girls see themselves differently. In a conversation with Nichols, Martin Luther King Jr. encouraged her to stay in the role, not only because it was the only TV show he let his kids stay up late to watch, but because she was a vital part in changing the imaginations of the country to include equal rights for African Americans. How we visualize something has a powerful effect on what we do. When we see ourselves represented in someone else, it shapes our own version of who we think we are.
“Let us make woman in our image.” Genesis 1:26
A balanced view of God recognizes that even though Scripture reveals God in masculine words and imagery, it does not reveal God as exclusively masculine. It is easy to overlook the Bible’s feminine imagery for God. Right at the beginning, God said, “Let us make woman in our image.” Now, the word I translated as “woman”, is adam in Hebrew. It includes women and men (Genesis 5:1). I write the sentence this way not to exclude men, but to make a point that is not often explicitly stated. God made women like God.
The ancient near eastern world was a man’s world. In Genesis 5, familial descent was reckoned through fathers. The father was called “lord” by both wife and children. Property passed from male heir to male heir. Husbands enjoyed sexual freedoms outside marriage, while women’s sexuality was strictly controlled. Even the written word reflected the centrality and normative nature of being male. If we are not careful, it is easy to confuse this man-centered culture with an image of God who looks like a man, acts like a man, and chooses to work only through men.
God is not a man.
Numbers 23:19 and Hosea 11:9 both state that God is not a man. The word ish in Hebrew can be translated as “man” indicating men and women in general, or “man,” indicating one male person. All English translations, except one, translate ish in these verses as man, a male person. God is declaring that he is not a male person. So, any understanding of his identity as male needs to be re-examined. It doesn’t help that our singular English pronouns limit us to choose between gender or non-being: he, she, or it. For ease of writing in English, I chose to use the male pronoun for God. Regardless of the pronouns we use, we must resist the ancient culture’s notion that God is male or that he favors men.
When I was in my late 30’s, my picture of God was altered. I began to catch a glimpse of an image of God who looks like a woman, acts like a woman, and chooses to work through women. It was subtle, but life-defining. As I explored the mystery of the Trinity and how it is subtly revealed through Scripture, my image of God as an old man dissolved, and something vaguer, more mysterious, and more feminine took its place. Because God was not more male than female, I could relish my differences as a woman, instead of devaluing them. I stopped making excuses. I was freed to live according to God’s promises, and not according to my female body. I became bolder as a mother, stronger as a wife and more confident in God’s love for me.
What is your mental imagery of how God looks, sounds, and behaves? How we imagine God is a powerful factor in how we journey through life.
I began to catch a glimpse of an image of God who looks like a woman, acts like a woman, and chooses to work through women.Tweet
 “Star Trek’s Uhura Reflects On MLK Encounter.” January 17, 2011,12:00 PM ET, Originally heard on NPR’s Tell Me More. https://www.npr.org/2011/01/17/132942461/Star-Treks-Uhura-Reflects-On-MLK-Encounter