God is beyond words. God is the Word. Since the dawn of history, we humans have struggled to understand God, to name God and to be named by God. Early in the history of the Israelite’s relationship with God they were forbidden to articulate a name – I AM THAT I AM. (Exodus 3:14)
On the drive to church Sunday mornings I am overwhelmed by the beauty and majesty of the mountains and I whisper “El Shaddai”. The Bible contains many images, names and metaphors for God. The church provides a witness for God – God who is neither feminine or masculine, male or female. God is a mystery. God is incomprehensible. Because we believe that the kingdom of God is inclusive, let’s examine some of the Biblical language.
We are very familiar with God portrayed as Father, Son, Holy Spirit, Lord, and King. God is also referred to as Rock, Fortress, Shield, Horn of Salvation, Stronghold (Psalm 18:2) Light (Psalm 27:1) Moth and Rot (Hosea 5:12) Lion, Leopard, Bear (Hosea 13:6-8a) and Shade (Psalm 121:5b).
Hear these beautiful nurturing words from God:
I will now cry out like a woman in labour, I will gasp and pant. (Isaiah 42:14b)
Did I conceive all these people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, “Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling child?” (Numbers 11:12)
Can a woman forget her nursing child, and 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. (Isaiah 66:13a)
You have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn gray I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear: I will carry and will save. (Isaiah 46:3b-4)
You are unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth. (Deuteronomy 32:18)
The more I called them, the more they went from me…yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them. (Hosea 11:2a,3,4)
In response to these images the Psalmist sees God in terms of mother, mid-wife and mother bird:
I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother: my soul is like a weaned child that is with me. (Psalm 131:2)
It was you who took me out of the womb; you kept me safe at my mother’s breast.(Psalm 22:9).
Guard me as the apple of your eye. Hide me in the shadow of your wings. (Psalm 17:8)
In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, until the destroying storms pass by. (Psalm 57:1b)
Examining some of the Hebrew words used to describe God can be enlightening. Rahamin, the Hebrew word for compassion has its root in the word for womb. Ruah, the word for Spirit is a feminine word, and of course Sophia, means wisdom.
In explaining God’s mission of seeking and saving each person, Jesus tells his parable of the mustard seed and balances it with the parable of the baker-woman God – mixing the yeast into the dough and getting the whole thing to rise. After the story of the shepherd and the lost sheep he tells a story of a woman looking for a lost coin.
Jesus used images that he knew his listeners would understand. We too, come to God with many experiences, so some images and names are more helpful than others. Following is a list of suggested ways to address and think about God: Beloved ~ Companion ~ Friend ~ Advocate ~ Liberator ~ Source and Ground of our being ~ Ultimate Mystery ~ Searcher of hearts ~ One who understands ~ Merciful One ~ Peace of the World ~ Compassionate One.
By Carrie Hinterberger, a retired Teacher-Librarian, who loves words, written and spoken, November 2007.