Feminist theology challenges the traditional exclusive use of a masculine pronoun for God. It’s reported that half of the seven million Christians in UK don’t attend churches, so at some level see no reason for a gathered people. Is there any validity in their arguments? The biblical testimony is to Jerusalem (or Zion) figuratively being a mother country, giving us citizenship. Let’s explore the message.
The bible includes natural images of God such as rock, bear (Hosea 13:8) and eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11). Among the human images we find "eyes", "ears", “face” (1 Peter 3:12), and "fingers" (Luke 11:20). Such anthropomorphic (= based on the form of man or woman) language is given to help us understand something more about God, though none of these is totally God.
There are points at which the bible does use feminine word-pictures to express God’s activity. They include birth, nurture and comfort, protection, etc. Do they define something feminine, or are they also just to help us to understand better? Jesus called God Father. Every place God is mentioned in the bible it is with the masculine pronoun. Not once is God addressed as mother.
If the root metaphor for God is masculine father, the language is more generous in bridal and motherhood images for His gathered people. The focus is principally in Jerusalem/Zion, the city of birth and flourishing. The Psalms and Isaiah are full of such references (though sometimes a little idealised).
This image carries over into the New Testament as the church, and her eternal destiny as part of the heavenly New Jerusalem. The strength of covenant brotherhood speaks of balanced “parenting” within the Holy Spirit’s activity, the immanent presence of God.
God’s covenant desire is a people with the right heart within/among whom He can abide. They are gathered as a united community: Zion, the church. Individualism is not part of this, because it isn’t part of the new heart. For us this is all made possible through regeneration and uniting by the Holy Spirit.
So what’s this about? The God Who conceived birth and motherhood has these dimensions planned for us.
PSALM 50:2 From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.
PSALM 131:2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Feminine activities of God. The prophets attribute birth, nurture, sustaining and compassion to God.
DEUTERONOMY 32:18 You deserted the Rock, who fathered you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. 19 The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters.
ISAIAH 42:14 "For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back. But now, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant.
ISAIAH 46:3 "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. 4 Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.
ISAIAH 49 15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!
The city of our birth. Equally, Zion, established by God, is the city of our birth, identity and comfort.
PSALM 87:5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said, "This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her." 6 The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: "This one was born in Zion."
ISAIAH 66:7 "Before she goes into labour, she gives birth; before the pains come upon her, she delivers a son. 8 Who has ever heard of such a thing? Who has ever seen such things? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment? Yet no sooner is Zion in labour than she gives birth to her children. 9 Do I bring to the moment of birth and not give delivery?" says the LORD. "Do I close up the womb when I bring to delivery?" says your God. 10 "Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. 11 For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance." 12 For this is what the LORD says: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. 13 As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem."
The city of God’s heart. God purposes to dwell among the holy people He has redeemed, and causes to flourish. He will faithfully rescue and restore them into this favoured habitation. Here we see the church.
ISAIAH 52:8 When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes. 9 Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem, for the LORD has comforted his people, he has redeemed Jerusalem.
ZECHARIAH 8:3 This is what the LORD says: "I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the City of Truth, and the mountain of the LORD Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain." 4 This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each with cane in hand because of his age. 5 The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there." 6 This is what the LORD Almighty says: "It may seem marvellous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvellous to me?" declares the LORD Almighty. 7 This is what the LORD Almighty says: "I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. 8 I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God."
The New Testament also uses feminine imagery; it helps us to understand our relationship to the Lord.
MATTHEW 23:37 "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, `Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.' "
1 PETER 2:2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Zion, below and above. We are drawn away from the emphasis on works, to the covenant promise of God. Our destiny is a heavenly city; while on earth we have the Spirit’s grace now to display our citizenship.
GALATIANS 4:24 These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband." [Isaiah 54:1]
HEBREWS 12:22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect,
1 PETER 2:5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says: "See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame."
Application Multitudes of every nation, Now come and seek and find salvation; This Zion mother church shall be writes Charles Wesley; and Isaac Watts, And Zion is His dwelling still, His church is with His presence blessed.
· Sin’s separation left us exiled (Genesis 3:24). Have you found your place and heritage in God’s “new Eden”?
· May we say that when churches are weak, a need for identity, comfort and nurture is missing from living truth?
· It’s clear that God invests Himself in His Zion/church. Do you fully play your part in making her strong, too?
Scripture quotes from the New International Version.
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When the beauty of the church
Captures my eyes,
I’m overwhelmed with tears of love
That flow from somewhere deep inside.
And all at once
Her preciousness shines through;
The joy of seeing lives now changed
Is bringing change to my life too.
Oh heavenly mother,
I love all you do;
You go to the dark place,
And there you find the roughest stones
And fashion them into your jewels.
Oh heavenly mother.
NCCC © 1997 Jesus Fellowship Songs/CopyCare Ltd