Tenderness, Masculinity, Femininity and God

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Photo by DonkeyHotey via Flickr Creative Commons

I remember attending a Sunday school class several years ago in which the gentleness of God was the topic. I can’t remember the verse or the modern-day life application story that went with it, but I remember that the person teaching the lesson expressed some discomfort with the idea of God as tender and gentle. The image contrasted sharply with that of a mighty, battle-winning God and made God seem, in her—yes, her—estimation, like “a punk.” There were objections to this, of course, and I think that in spite of her feelings, she was thankful for God’s tenderness when it comes to the mercy God shows to sinners.

Looking back on it today, I see her interpretation as part of a worldview that associates tenderness, gentleness and the like with femininity—characteristics not easily associated with a masculine God. It takes less effort to wrap one’s mind around a male godhead who will part the Red Sea, rain down fire, or enable skinny shepherd boys to defeat giants with slingshots. Masculinity is about strength, prowess, might. Femininity is for treating people with love, kindness, and compassion.

As I rethink my image of God, I wonder if I have the same or a similar conflict. What does a mighty female Almighty look like? If I take a modern application to the David and Goliath story, I can assert that I know plenty of women who do a lot with a little (and, many of them would say, only with the help of a man named Jesus), but would they slay a giant with a slingshot? It’s hard for me to make that non-metaphorical leap because it’s hard for me to imagine a feminine deity who is violent (girl-fight videos on World Star Hip-Hop and that scene between Cookie and Boo-Boo Kitty notwithstanding). Does that mean I consider the traditional, masculine God as violent, or just powerful? Do I associate violence and power only with masculinity? Do I want my God to be violent, or just powerful?

I want the God I worship to be mighty. I want miracles. I want God’s strength made perfect in my weakness. I want to be supported when I need to be supported. I want to look at the impossible and think, “I can do this. God’s got me.”

I think a feminine divinity can give me all of that. To me womanhood, and especially Black womanhood, is strength made perfect in weakness. As women, we are mighty. We push big things out of tiny holes, for goodness’s sakes! As sisters, we carry and support each other. As activists we work tirelessly. As the working poor, we stretch impossibly small incomes to feed families. We manage to be some combination of employees, students, business owners, daughters, friends, girlfriends, wives, and mothers at all times, and sometimes, we manage to preserve our sanity while doing it. We are powerful. And yes, if you come for us the wrong way, we may turn that power into violence, too.

So I’m good with the powerfully feminine divine. At the same time, I want a God who is tender, loving, caring, and kind; a God who will not only fight for me when I’m weak but who will listen to my tears and hold me as I cry. And while I want all Christians to consider the feminine in the divine, I also want to be able to imagine that the tender, loving, caring and kind God could be male, and that men—particularly ones who profess themselves to be godly men—could embody those characteristics with ease and acceptance.

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2 thoughts on “Tenderness, Masculinity, Femininity and God

  1. I love your thinking. I am no longer comfortable with a God of war. And I am chording to be a gruntled, compassionate man. Thank you.

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