Male? Female? Neither? Both? Who is God?

Who is God… really? This is the one big kerfluffle–among other kerfluffles–entertaining Christians on social media, or distressing some, as the case may be. Some are intrigued, some are distressed, and some cry heresy and apostasy. But what does God say, when He speaks for Himself?

Personally, I’m fascinated by the question, and have been for many years. It started when I was 21, a conservative Mennonite Christian, shocked by such a representation. To say it out loud felt particularly scandalous and disrespectful, because God was a ‘He’–and not only in the pronoun sense, but in a male-gender-specific identity. All my life He had been this big man in the sky with a powerful stick. I feared Him. But never for a day in my life did I wish Him to be female. And I still don’t. But my reasons are entirely selfish; I’ll be honest. Too many women with influence and power in my early life were manipulators and in my mind it was much harder to deal with than a big, mean–even violent–male, who is at least predictably harsh and unkind. That was my view of men, generally, and women, just as generally. Why would I want a God with female attributes? A cosmic manipulator? Yeah… No thanks.

And then I read the Bible and things started jumping out at me differently; a God with feminine characteristics and attributes, but not a manipulator. I had read the verses before, but my conditioning had caused me to miss what was right there. When I read the first part of Genesis, over and over, picking through it with a fine-tooth comb, trying to grasp everything in it. Creation. Man. Woman. Mankind. In God’s image and likeness. Both of them. A reflection of the Almighty… Me? You? I found it hard to absorb that He had made females in His image and likeness, as well as males. (Image: צֶ֫לֶם noun Masculine. Likeness:  דְּמוּת noun feminine… not to mention the very direct wording.)

The thought of God looking at me as His reflection rocked my world and gave me a sense of eternal identity like nothing I had ever known. For many years I had believed that God was/is male, that men are made in His image and likeness, and women are… well ‘the refined version of man’, made in man’s image but prettier, softer and curvier. Someone had actually made a statement to this general effect when I was a preteen or teen, and I bought into it as truth. (Coincidentally, moments after typing this a friend private messaged me on Facebook–not knowing I am working on this blog, and that I just wrote this–and said: “I thought woman was in the image of man to be his help mate”. Clearly I am not alone in this belief/teaching.)

Reading the first few chapters of Genesis as though I had never heard them before, and re-reading it numerous times, what stood out was Genesis 1:26-27 where God clearly states making ‘male and female’ in His own image. If we, God’s daughters, are made in the image and likeness of God, it can mean only one thing; the triune God has feminine characteristics. Some insist it is only the Holy Spirit who displays feminine attributes–the nurturer who comes and comforts–others say the whole thing is heretical, at best, and anyone who ascribes to such a belief is an apostate who no longer believes in the One True God. But when I read my Bible, with no agenda, as it is written, I see over and over again that God is shown “…as a mother…”, and “…as a father”, and Jesus is always “the Son”, therefore to refute any feminine characteristics in God is to refute parts of the Bible. Even so, when I ‘picture’ God, I don’t get the image of a female. Ever. But I no longer get an image of a male either. I get a sense of mystery and wonderment. A God who shows up in a burning bush… in a dove… through a donkey–and a female donkey at that… It begs the question, what have we done to femininity and womanhood to find it the one ‘vessel’ unfit for God? Why is this the one thing by which we are so offended? Is a female donkey really so much more sacred than a woman made in God’s image and likeness? Or has religion warped our view of femininity to such an extent?

talking donkey

Frankly, it disturbs me that the Bible gives examples of God showing up through objects and creatures, and no one finds it scandalous, and yet when the Bible clearly states it, those who accept at face value that God has feminine attributes are silenced, judged and slandered. What a shame and tragedy.

Do I believe then that God is female, as opposed to male? Maybe both? Or neither? Here is what I believe, without apology: God is neither male nor female. He is generally portrayed as a Father, sometimes a husband, sometimes as a mother, and in Jesus He is male (and a brother). He is not limited to ‘form and body’, nor is He ‘gendered’ or subject to the terms we assign Him based on our limited human understanding. He is simply the Great I Am. The “I Am that I Am”, who enters our broken experience in whatever form He chooses. As His daughter, made in His image, I do not think He finds femininity repulsive or beneath His dignity; I believe it is a part of who He is. I reflect that part of Him, and He quite delights in me.

And my husband, who has loved me well, and reflects God beautifully….  I think God is kind of like that, just more perfect, holy, and without flaw or weakness. A ‘male’ God doesn’t frighten me, but limiting God to such ideologies is not biblical and I won’t pretend it just to win a crowd.

Love,
~ T ~

 © Trudy Metzger

Children, Sexual Behaviours & Healthy Responses that Preserve Innocence

One child was just under 2 years old, and the other just past 2 when the adult walked in and saw them engaging in what was unmistakably a sex act, of the oral kind… This adult related the event to me soon after, horrified, and asked, “What is the right response?” among many other questions. One of those other questions was, “How would children that age even know how to do that?”

Reactions to these discoveries range from anger, to fear, to apathy. Rather than telling the woman what she should have done, I asked her what she did. “Why I marched them to the bathroom and paddled them good!” she answered.

I cringed, visibly. In the moments that ensued, we talked about why that response is devastating and counterproductive. In exploring that, the other question was also answered.

Whipping and spanking children for sexual touch–whether innocent curiosity or the shocking reenactment of adult behaviour in any form, sends the wrong message. In either case it is not possible for a child to understand what that behaviour is or means, and to spank simply imposes confusion on them and tells them sexual touch is bad. It’s not bad. It’s lovely. In its rightful place. And that is the message children need to hear from young on up, in age appropriate language. It is God’s design, and it is good.

Innocence is not preserved or reclaimed through silence; it is through healthy teaching that they are empowered and equipped. For a toddler or small child there is no need for a lengthy science or Bible lesson; a simple “your body is special and no one is allowed to touch your ______ (insert part)” is probably enough. (Older children can handle more information.) Explaining that boys and girls are different is also good, starting at a young age, as well as allowing conversations and questions on the subject. Making it taboo or dirty, serves to escalate the curiosity and guilt/shame often associated with what is a natural desire to know and understand. In this we feed the cycle of abuse and confusion in that the child does not feel safe coming to us, and yet wants answers.

canstockphoto15204376

And that is the next reason we do well not to react or paddle. It closes doors to trust and communication on a topic where both are critical for the child’s well-being, and results in teenagers trying to muddle their way through puberty, hormones and sex-drives with no one to talk to. Granted, it will still be awkward for some (probably many) but it at least gives them a reasonable chance.

Lastly, the child who has progressed to adult-like sexual behaviour is most likely reenacting personal experience. There is no way that a little child understands that behaviour without some molestation and sexual exposure of some sort. That is how they ‘know how to do that’ at such a young age.

Sexual interactions between children, when it moves beyond that ‘normal curiosity’ of wanting to know the differences, is not something to take lightly; we develop life patterns in the formative years. While both scenarios require guidance, the latter is a dangerous thing to neglect. However, to scold and punish rather than gently training and teaching, dumps shame and guilt on them for what they don’t understand as well as for what was done against them. That child will potentially, even likely, develop fear surrounding the topic of sex and is not likely going to tell anyone what was done against him or her, if asked, and will be pushed into deep denial. Out of that denial they often develop compulsive lying and deceptive behaviours, not to mention sexual addictions of various kinds at a young age.

On the flip side, by affirming their sexual identity–and I write here from a biblical worldview–we give them an incredible gift. To know, as a toddler, that we are made in the image of our Creator, and reflect something of Him in all of who we are, is a good thing.

Drawing from Genesis, I get a powerful message of identity…  Male and female God created them; in His own image, He created them. That to me says, “In their sexual identity, as male and female, God created humankind to reflect something of Himself to each other and the world.” This identity runs much deeper than sexual organs or sexual behaviors, though these in their God-given place and context are part of it. It speaks of ‘all of who you are, as a man or woman, as a boy or a girl, is made in God’s image to bring honour to Him.

What part of that is not a thrilling reality? And does it not stand to reason that a child who grows up from early age on, understanding that he or she is made in God’s image, will do much better than the one who is paddled into a state of confusion?

Sexual interaction between children is nothing to take lightly; it leaves long-lasting scars, in many instances. It is also not something to overreact about. It is an opportunity to teach our children, and when it resembles adult sexual intimacy, it is a strong clue that our child has been exposed to something sexual. In such a case that clue, and what we do with it, can make all the difference in the world for that child.Talk to them, and find out what they know and where they learned it, in a non-threatening way, and give your child a safe place to talk. And, if in doubt, reach out to someone and get help and guidance. Your child’s well being depends on it.

This is but the tip of the iceberg, in relating well to children and sexuality. I have gained much insight and understanding, through cases I work with and individuals I go to for answers, and I continue to learn in every situation I face.

If you have some insight to share, or if there is a particular question you would like answered, please write using the Contact Trudy page. Together we learn; together we make a difference.

Love,
~ T ~


© Trudy Metzger