Over the past several decades, the church has become embarrassed over the fact that almost exclusively male imagery—and exclusively masculine pronouns—have always been used to refer to God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). In our day and age, how are women supposed to relate to male deity at every turn? The same way men ought to relate: God is our husband. In Scriptural imagery, God is masculine to the extent that all of creation is feminine to him. God is male to the extent that all creation is female to him. Rewriting hymns and traditional prayers and retranslating the Bible into gender-neutral forms does not broaden our understanding of God. It distorts it.
The Old Testament, portrays Israel as an adulterous wife, fooling around with other gods (Jeremiah 3:1-5, 14; Ezekiel 16, especially vv.32-34; Hosea 2, especially vv. 16-17). Although angry with her, God determines to woo her back and restore her to her rightful place as his loving wife, as the same chapters and other similar passages make clear. (See also Isaiah 54, especially v. 5. Find any specific passage of Scripture at Bible Gateway.)
In the New Testament, at the very beginning of Jesus’ public ministry John the Baptist identified himself as “best man” and Jesus as bridegroom. The imagery continues at the very end of the Bible (Revelation 19:7-8; 21:2, 9; 22:17.)
How did faithless Israel become the radiant, unblemished bride of Christ?
Paul explains (Romans 7:1-6) that Israel was married to the law, the sole purpose of which was to make sin increase and demonstrate that the seed of Adam could not live up to it. In Adam (not the man in the garden, but generic humanity according to Genesis 5:1-2) all die, so the adulterous wife of the law dies. That legally releases her from her first husband. Jesus also died, and in his death all [believers] shall be made alive. The dead and risen Christ becomes husband of the dead and risen church.
The Bible does indeed show God in nurturing, mothering roles, as a hen spreading her wings over her hatchlings. God is entirely comfortable in his masculinity, unlike the machismo so many men use to hide their insecurities. On the other hand, the Bible knows nothing of goddesses except as the loathsome idols that drew Israel into adultery. God is never the mother, never the daughter, never the sister.
Let us repent of turning away from scriptural imagery that our society finds uncomfortable. Attempting to emasculate the language of our hymns, prayers, and Bible translation does not make our worship more inclusive. It merely hides and obscures profound imagery that could lead us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our relationship to God. It makes utter nonsense of the passage that says there is neither male nor female in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
God is the husband; the church is the bride. How can we all relate to that? Women can look forward to a husband that will never disappoint them or put them down. Men can learn something about loving submission by being on the doing end. After all, in the passage on marriage that feminists love to hate (5:21-33—and do start reading at v. 21; in Greek , the sentence starts there and v. 22 has no finite verb!), Paul says he is not talking about human marriage at all, except as a dim picture of what the marriage of Christ and his bride will look like.
Photo credit: “Win Her Back” (Hosea 2:14-16) ©loswl