“Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate (wombish), just as your Father is compassionate (wombish). – Luke 6:35,36 NLT
Words often fail me. This is quite the problem, as my vocation demands my use of them. I am a pastor and a religion professor and thus I am tasked daily with communicating God to my church family and to my students in ways that are both relevant and truthful. I fail all too often. I console myself with the fact that to speak of God is an utterly impossible task. To borrow the words of Augustine, “If you can grasp it, it isn’t God. Let us rather make a devout confession of ignorance, instead of a brash profession of knowledge. Certainly it is great bliss to have a little touch or taste of God with the mind; but completely to grasp God, to comprehend God, is utterly impossible.”
This confession of inadequacy did little to comfort me, however, when my friend Hannah walked into my office a year ago and confronted me with the following statement, “Nothing said from the pulpit applies to me. Everything is couched in masculine language. What are you going to do about it?” Although initially taken aback by her bluntness, I had to admit that her claim was all too true and that I would do my best to ensure that we would be more intentional and inclusive with our language in the future.
In the weeks and months that followed, I would find myself reflecting on my discussion with Hannah and imagining how our faith community might actively explore the feminine aspects of God. This reflection prompted my sharing of the following in a talk entitled, “Jesus the Compassionate,” on this past Mother’s Day:
- The church tends to think of God in masculine terms because the scriptures were penned in a patriarchal context and because of Jesus’ oft-employed image of God as Father. (To name only two factors).
- God is, however, neither male nor female but is instead beyond gender. (See Alister McGrath’s discussion of this in his text, Theology the Basics).
- Jesus emphasized that compassion was the central quality of God and the central moral quality of a life lived unto God. We see this in Luke 6:36. It is also important to note that the word translated as compassion, “rachmin,” stems from the word “rechmen” which means “womb.” Therefore, Jesus is stating that if we want to be like our Father then we must be wombish like our Father is wombish. (Thanks to Marcus Borg for introducing me to this concept in his book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time).
- To be wombish is to be life giving, nourishing, protective and embracing. Again, this is how Jesus sees God. God is not only Father, but also Mother! (See Jeremiah 31:20 and Exodus 34:6).
- I believe Luke 6:36 is superior to its corresponding passage in Matthew 5:48, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” as it is more in keeping with the overall tenor of Jesus’ teachings and ministry. (Again, see above for Borg’s discussion on these two motifs as it relates to Jesus’ attack on the purity system of his day).
I understand that this language might be hard for some to accept, but I believe that it is necessary for the church to begin to employ metaphors and models that highlight the feminine aspects of God as well as the masculine. In doing so, we might better avoid the incomplete and often chauvinistic image of God that is portrayed in so many of our congregations.