Feminizing the First Person
My grandfather has a shack behind his house. In it, he keeps his gardening and lawn tools. When playing hide and seek with my cousins, I always found the shack a perfect spot. None of them wanted to go in there. It was slightly dark and had sharp instruments hanging on the walls like something out of a horror flick. I had to muster up quite a bit of courage to hide in it – and I only stayed until my nerves fell apart. Luckily, that was enough time to find the yard clear so that I could dart to base before I was caught.
There is another shack that exists. One that is more familiar than the one in which I would hide. In fact, it is so popular right now that it is a best-seller. A self-published book with a budget of around $200, it was not what you would expect to be a million dollar hit. “The Shack” is phenomenally popular. Like my shack, this one is physically harmless. However, with the raves that I have read, it could be dangerously harmful to you spiritually.
I guess that in some sense, both shacks are harmful when your imagination takes over. While playing hide-and-seek, I had to be extremely quiet. I remember hearing my heart beat and the whistle of the wind blowing through the doors and skimming the fingers of the rakes. Of course, these were lifeless objects. They were inanimate. Rather than the tools, it was my mind that made my heart race. When it was not tamed, my imagination would run wild.
I fear that some who read the more popular shack will have their imaginations run just as mine. I know this first-hand to be dangerous. Readers of the book have said it to have profound truths and lessons about hearing the voice of God among other things. All of which have been reviewed and made available online (see two below). However, I wish to focus on one thing in particular. The portrayal of the first person of the Trinity.
My initial encounter with someone who read the book gave me concerns about this. (And, if you have read the book you probably know where I’m going.) Mack, the main character in the book interacts with the Godhead. The three persons of the Trinity are depicted in physical form as actual people. For the most part of the book, two of these persons are female.
Now let me interject here and say that no matter how you portray our Triune God in earthly pictures – especially people – you will face some harsh criticism. And rightly so. God cannot be reduced to man’s imaginations. Only Jesus was incarnate. So only Jesus has a human body. Describing the Father and the Spirit as such will earn you critical wages on every side. Everyone should understand that.
The scope of this writing is not to provide one more critical paper on how well the author described the Trinity. However, it is my purpose is to answer the question posed by many we have read the book, can we call God “Mother”?
William Young believes so. In his book, that is exactly what God is called. Moreover, God is a female, an African American lady who makes cookies. (Just as a disclaimer, I don’t think that women, African-Americans, or cookies are bad. I love all three. And I’m sure that if God made some cookies, they would be the best ones to ever touch my lips.)
When this was first brought to my attention, I turned and asked the person what they thought about that. Like some, the person had no real problem with it. Since God is Spirit, He can appear however he wants – a burning bush, a cloud, or a woman. Then I asked a follow-up question. I changed it to Jesus and said, “What if Jesus was a portrayed as a woman in the book.” The person’s response was dynamically different, “Jesus was a man, that would be heresy!” I don’t know if my point was taken or not, but I felt better.
What is it that offends us if Jesus is portrayed as a female? Why are we not offended if God the Father is portrayed as female? I believe that Scripture warrants such offense. I think that we should argue against any human portrayal of God – especially a female. This is not to imply that females are subhuman in any way. Man and woman are both created in God’s image. Both are equal in essence and value. Both are sinners. Both must be saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.
I do intend to imply that when Scripture uses specific language to refer to God the Father, the language is always masculine (except in some metaphors). Besides this, any picture of God that is not biblical is idolatry and should be avoided. I realize that sometimes, we feel safe when using people or things for illustrations, but God cannot be imagined. As noted before, our imaginations run wild and tend to drive us to horrors – like idol worshipping.
So, what does the Bible say then? First of all, the Bible never teaches us to refer to God as “Mother” or any other feminine term. In fact, we can find only masculine and genderless references in Scripture. God is referred to as Lord, Father, King, Judge, Savior, Ruler, Shepherd, Husband, Rock, Fortress, Shield, and others. There are no feminine references made. Moreover, the masculine language utilized in the Bible is not cultural. It was not used to meet cultural demands. Early civilizations worshiped masculine and feminine deities (see Judges 3:7 and Acts 19:34). Suggesting that the uses of masculine references to God are cultural dependent is unwarranted. In other words, there was no reason for the authors of the Bible to use masculine references in order to be cultural compliant.
Some may argue that the use of feminine imagery for God in the Bible warrants feminine usage today. These occasions in the Bible are very rare and always describe God’s actions and not His nature. For example, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you and you forgot the God who gave you birth” (Deuteronomy 32:18). The metaphor is used to describe God’s act of making Israel a people of His own just as a mother would give birth to her children. The same kind of imagery is used by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4:19. He describes himself to be “in the anguish of childbirth” until Christ makes the Galatians mature. But no one would take that to refer to Paul as a female!
Rather, “Father” is a title that communicates something real about God’s nature. He is the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:6) in a way that is unlike a father to believers (John 20:17). With respect, we are called “sons of God” by adoption of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:15). The relationship between first and second persons of the Trinity existed even before creation (John 3:17). And the Son of God always does what pleases His Father (John 8:29; 14:31).
In conclusion, while we should be careful when depicting God as anything other than what He really is – even for illustrative purposes – we need to be very careful that we do not provoke idolatry. It would be beneficial to us and our hearers if we were to stick with what Scripture uses when speaking of God especially in our day when feminism is high and New Age is growing stronger. I’m not that upset over this detail of the book, I just hope that it does not lead into something other than the fiction it is.
So, use caution when in the shack … both of them.