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Something About Mary…

October 6, 2009

Dear Blog reader friends, I am taking a little detour from the typical work- and-spiritual life discussions we do here at STC, in honor of a little project that some friends of mine are working on.

Mary

I read a book recently where the author repeatedly referred to God as “She.” It was kind of weird at first, but then I got used to it. By the time the book was finished, I actually started to enjoy the idea of God as a woman. A heretical thought for such a good Evangelical Protestant boy, I know, but I went so far as to have second thoughts about the scriptures, wondering if it was such a good idea to have portrayed God as exclusively male throughout its entirety. Because, as we all know, God is certainly neither male nor female, nor is he even human, for that matter.

Although the idea of God as a woman may not sit well with some conservatives, all Christians seem to agree on one thing regarding theology and gender: that God created both male and female in His image – therefore God inherently personifies both male and female characteristics. However, the ancient texts of the scriptures, though certainly inspired by God, were all written during eras of cultural history when men were the only creatures that mattered. My understanding is that for many of these ancient male-dominated societies, the women were ranked somewhere slightly above the livestock. So God got to be a man, too.

Not that I have a better idea for how those biblical authors could have depicted God as both male and female at the same time. It’s not easy to think of a loving, all-knowing, omnipresent being as an androgynous persona. We don’t really have a role model for that. (Not yet, anyway.) This presents quite a divine gender-identity dilemma.

Which brings me to Mary. I can totally appreciate why the Catholics lifted up Mary to such a high status in the church. It simply rounds out their view of God. For us Protestants, we are limited in our theological impressions to the guys: we can go to the Big Man, God, who is like the Father/authoritarian figure. And then there’s Jesus, who is like my brother and my savior, the One who really went to the mat for me and who understands all my painful struggles of humanity. And we also have the mysterious Holy Spirit. But not too many of us are inclined to pray specifically to the Holy Spirit, because it/he/she is like an amorphous wisp of undefined invisibility, which we can’t identify with very well. So we’ll prefer to pray to God or Jesus.

But I must admit that it would be nice once in a while to have a female, motherly figure to go to in prayer as well. This is how I see it: Let’s say you have a sensitive problem that you would like to talk through, but you are intimidated by big powerful Dad, and you worry that brother Jesus might think you’re a bone-head (even though you know he loves you). So you decide to run it by your mom first. You know she will love and nurture you no matter what. She will help you think through your problem for a little while, so that later you know how to go back to Dad or to brother Jesus with more confidence. This matches up with our experience in real life, with our real families. Yet we Protestants might cringe at the bad theology of that scenario – we aren’t quite sure how to approach this subject.

How do you feel about Mary? My friend and fellow Blogger L.L. Barkat is in the midst of a little Mary revival, especially (especially!) for the Protestants in the house. Head over to her Blog, where she is giving away Scott McKnight’s book, “The Real Mary: Why Evangelical Christians Can Embrace the Mother of Jesus.” All you have to do is comment on her post by 6 pm, October 8, and you might be selected to receive a free copy of this book. The winner will also get to be a guest blogger for another friend, Joan Ball, who has a blog at BeliefNet, where you will be able to write about your reflections on the book.

Sounds like a great chance to revisit an important lady, one who we aren’t very well acquainted with – yet.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2009 7:23 am

    Really thoughtful (and fun) way to think about this. I wonder, have you heard of the O.T. Shekinah glory? It is decidedly feminine in nature.

  2. October 6, 2009 2:04 pm

    I appreciate that you can be open to thinking about God as other than “He”. I do agree with you, though, that God is without gender and most certainly is not human.

    Language, our English at any rate, bids us to name that about which we speak, and language is not gender-neutral. And efforts to use (s)he or to alternate the use of “he” and “she” are messy at best. Moreover, I don’t want to be the part of the word that’s enclosed in parentheses.

    Thank you for a thoughtful essay. You’ve helped me better understand how men think.

  3. October 6, 2009 2:31 pm

    You said – “This matches up with our experience in real life, with our real families. Yet we Protestants might cringe at the bad theology of that scenario – we aren’t quite sure how to approach this subject.”

    What if our lives here are a pattern of what life in Eternity will be? Can’t God be a family? – meaning that there is God the Father and God the Mother as well as God the Son? Why would we have these types of patterns here if they were meaningless from an eternal perspective?

    Our earthly eyes cannot see what God sees. He plainly tells us that “my thoughts are not your thoughts and my ways are not your ways”. We were formed in his image, which means he may have hands and feet but they are certainly not mortal hands and feet. The fact that we cannot comprehend a divine hand or foot does not mean that it does not exist. The same may be true about the eternal nature and role of gender and the family. We may not understand it, but that does not mean it does not exist.

    I for one have no problem believing in both Heavenly Parents!

  4. October 6, 2009 8:02 pm

    I’m pulling away my collar and laying my neck out here.

    I believe God is absolutely male.

    Yes, He most certainly embodies both male and female characteristics. But in His creation of male and female people, He illustrates a very real relationship between deity and humanity. Jesus Christ purchased with His blood a bride which His Spirit enters, as He did Mary, to create the life of Christ.

    And I believe in a physical consummation of this relationship when all else is also consummated. There is far too much to say than I can include here.

    I’ve written of some of this already, on my blog (see the label “Union with Christ”). But it’s not necessary to read my words. Simply ask the Spirit for wisdom to understand the great mystery of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 5:30-32.

  5. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 7, 2009 5:00 am

    Anne – Well. Of course you can share your convictions here – that’s perfectly fine, and we want to know what you think! I used to be as certain as you are, but I must be getting old because I start questioning so many assumptions that I have always taken for granted.

    LL, the Shekina glory as feminine? VEry interesting.

    Maureen – Love your thoughtful comments. But I don’t think my perspective is going to qualify as representative for the broader “male perspective.” I am a little wacko…

    Andrew- Really great thoughts. With good logic. Can’t God be a family? I hope so!

  6. October 7, 2009 10:27 am

    Just to touch on some thoughts, when I first started attending mass with a girlfriend, and then later my husband’s family, this mixed up soul felt Mary winking at her. Like the womb spoke louder than words. It was the beginning of some new perspectives.
    I like that Mary was silent when she went to look for Jesus, and he sort of gave her attitude. I don’t see that as meek, but showing great strength in her faith. To that I can pray.

  7. Annie permalink
    October 7, 2009 10:10 pm

    I think I read the same book as you. I admit I was a tad shaken by thinking of God as a ‘she’ because I was raised and think of Him as a Father. I am Catholic and Mary is a HUGE part of the faith. However, I do not pray to her. I think it is because I am so used to praying to God or Jesus that I unintentionally leave her alone. Well, your post has prompted me to include her. And maybe that will give God and Jesus a much needed break! As always, very insightful thoughts.

  8. October 8, 2009 9:11 am

    Brad, I hope assurance doesn’t come across as arrogance. I’ve likewise learned to examine long-held assumptions and change them if they prove unworthy. I also stand ready to defend the assertions I’ve carefully examined and found true, and in which I’ve come to put my confidence.

  9. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    October 9, 2009 5:26 am

    Anne – Arrogance? You? never. Again, I respect your position.

    Annie – “Giving GOd and Jesus a break” That’s funny. Although, I think they have infinite patience with us, as hard as that is to believe. But, why not include the whole family?

    Deb- You have such a way of saying things. To say that Mary winked at you – how cute, and utterly mysterious. I like how you put it at the end – she was silent but not meek, showing great strength in her faith. So true. Let’s all pray for that.

  10. February 1, 2013 4:33 pm

    So glad you pointed me to this post of yours, which I’d missed. And I loved the way you compared it to family relations–that made a lot of sense to me.

    All this Mary stuff is still mysterious. From day to day I don’t know what I think, but I agree, it’s nice.

    Off to listen to the song now.

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