Embracing the ‘Feminine Side’ of God

There is a feminine side of God. I always knew this. Even before the feminist movement demanded that I use inclusive language to publicly declare this truth, I saw this side of God in the Jesus who approached the world with what we would call a feminine sensitivity and appreciation. The way our Lord considered the lilies of the field and the way He gave pause to the smallest bird that might fall dead from a tree made me see the feminine side of God most clearly.

If the male side of God’s character was expressed by Jesus’ strong declarations of truth and pronouncements on morality, the female side of God was clear in His gentle sense of wonder while enjoying what the less perceptive would call the simple things of life. If I could have been around in Jesus’ time, I do not think I would have so much wanted to see Him perform miracles and defy the self-righteous religionists as I would have enjoyed sneaking along after Him as He took His private walks.

I would have loved peeking at Him from behind some boulder on a hillside near the Sea of Galilee and watching Him be charmed by all the sights and sounds that surrounded Him. I would have liked watching the way Jesus looked at all the people He met and seeing how he delighted Himself with simple food and the taste of water.

The Melody That He Gave to Me

The masculine side of God is something to be admired. But it is the feminine side that draws love out of me. It is this feminine side of God I find in Jesus that makes me want to sing duets with Him. When I think about the feminine in Him, I want to throw out my arms and be loved.

When I was younger and tougher and trying to be a dead serious prophet (and what young preacher doesn’t have some desire to play such a role?), I was offended by a hymn that was loved by many of the elderly members of the congregation at the church I pastored. During the hymn singing in our Sunday evening services there was a time for requesting favorites, and I could count on one of them asking for “I Come to the Garden Alone.” But the more I, myself, become an old guy, the more I understand why they requested that hymn. In my younger days, it seemed to reek of mushy sentimentality, and I always felt that there was some neo-Freudian lovemaking going on between some of the elderly ladies and Jesus. Maybe I was right, but in my narrow and perverted thinking, I failed to see how pure and beautiful that could be. As I give up my messianic tendencies and more and more simply surrender to the Messiah in love, this hymn becomes increasingly meaningful to me:

I come to the garden alone,
While the dew is still on the roses;
And the voice I hear, falling on my ear;
The Son of God discloses.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me,
Within my heart is ringing.

I’d stay in the garden with Him
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe,
His voice to me is calling.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

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In my youth I wanted to be like Martin Luther King, but the older I get, the more my role model becomes Saint Francis of Assisi. Of course there was a lot of Saint Francis in Dr. King and a lot of Dr. King in Saint Francis. But now it is the loving of Jesus in the Spirit that is becoming more and more a preoccupation of my life.

Recognizing the Feminine Side of Myself

Not only do I love the feminine in Jesus, but the more I know Jesus, the more I realize that Jesus loves the feminine in me. In a day and age when so many women are trying to rediscover the side of their humanity that the world deems masculine, I find Jesus is helping me to appreciate those dimensions of me the world calls feminine.

I find myself wanting to be the bride of Christ. I want Him to find in me; or, if need be, to create in me, a sweetness and a sensitivity for all things and all people. I want more and more for Him to find in me, or to create in me, a gentle heart and an awareness of the goodness that lies in people around me and especially in my enemies.

Once I wanted to be the enemy of the enemies of Jesus. But little by little I am realizing that Jesus refuses to declare any of us to be His enemies, even though there are those who would like to dignify themselves by assuming the title. And the more I become aware that our Lord does not view His enemies as His enemies, the more it becomes difficult for me to define them as my enemies.

I want to learn to love those people who stand on the other side of the struggles in which I am engaged. I pray that Jesus will bring out in me that blessed trait, which some disparage as feminine weakness, that will enable me to find the good in the racist, the homophobe, the fascist, and the militarist. The side of me that the world calls masculine would want them destroyed. But as Jesus draws out the feminine in me, He makes me want to see them rescued by having the goodness that is in them overcome the evil.

There is that feminine side of me that must be recovered and strengthened if I am to be like Christ. And it is in the recovering of that side of my humanity that I find myself more and more willing and less and less afraid to be called “a bride of Christ.”

Society has brought me up to suppress the so-called feminine dimensions of my humanness. But when Jesus makes me whole, both sides of who I am meant to be will be fully realized. Then, and only then, will I be fully able to love Jesus and be fully able to accept His love for me. Until I accept the feminine in my humanness, there will be a part of me that cannot receive the Lord’s love. And until I feel the feminine in Jesus, there is a part of Him with which I cannot identify. What I long for in the end is to know the way He can love Himself through me and I can love myself through Him. Only when I know Him in His wholeness and am myself made whole will this happen. And when it does happen, I will be fully alive in Him and He in me. It is not yet, but it will be. And this is the good news:

Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. (1 John 3:2)

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Tony Campolo

Tony CampoloTony Campolo is Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University. Look for Tony in your area and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.View all posts by Tony Campolo →

  • http://twitter.com/jeremyers1 Jeremy Myers

    I agree that there is a feminine side to God, but don’t you think the church has been too focused on the feminine side of God far too long? Men think the church is only for women and children.

    • Don Neufeld

      The church has focussed for too long on the polarization of the sexes and as a result, the polarization of God’s multi-dimensionality. As long as we continue to also use language that makes strength and leadership “masculine” and sensitivity and caring “feminine” we contribute to the gulf that infects the relationship between men and women. We must see these characteristics as common for both women and men, granted to a greater or lesser degree along the continuum, but non-the-less aspects of character that are to be celebrated and nutured for all. The limitations of using language of “masculine” and “feminine” for characteristics of God also tend to reinforce the dicotomy, rather than the encourage the embracing of the breadth of expression available to all of us, men or women.

  • tim f

    Galatians 3 v 28 doesn’t say “There is both… male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”, it says “There is neither… male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.

    All this talk about a “feminine side” and a “masculine side” of God, or of us as individuals, encourages dualist thinking & reinforces the gender binary. Using the terms “so-called” and “the world calls” might seem to mitigate this slightly but ultimately by talking about a “male side” of God you are still positing that gender exists/is a binary/personal characteristics are linked to biological sex etc.

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  • John

    The “expression” of Jesus goes so far beyond the time-worn(out) notions of masculine and feminine (the 60’s were some of my “formative” years), I’m going to stick with the notion of a “whole person”, i.e., one who is awake to the butterfly’s flutter and the roar of the thunder…I guess that might sound a little 60’s-ish too. And the beat goes on…

  • http://damiansawyer.tumblr.com/ Damian Keith Sawyer

    Like it or not, there are significant psychological differences between men and women. While there are rare exceptions, men tend to be project-orientated and women focus more on relationships. Fathers give guidance and mothers give comfort. Men focus on logic and reasoning, and women are motivated more by aesthetics. To deny the importance or existence of gender-specific attributes is to imply that God made a mistake in creating them!

    In following Christ and serving others, we are no longer motivated by our gender, as it is the same essence we are embodying; the love of God for every individual.

    God primarily longs for relationship with us, and the very concept of a Father being like that is difficult for some people to accept. At the same time, we are His ongoing project, “His workmanship, created for good works in Christ.” He both guides and comforts us. His logic and reasoning are our wisdom, His aesthetic creativity our revelation. God transcends human gender because His character includes all that is good in men and all that is good in women. Both male and female were made in His image.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1388514701 Greg Dill

    Must God have a feminine side in order for lilies of the field to be considered and give pause to the smallest bird that might fall dead from a tree? Are the masculine sides incapable of cherishing such things? Have we considered that some of the most beautiful paintings ever painted, were painted by men? Have you ever considered that some of the most beautiful music ever composed, was composed by men? Have you ever considered the most beautiful poetry every written, were written by men? Men are also capable of having compassion for the weak. After all, it was men who sought the freedom of oppressed slaves in England and America. It was men, who helped bring down the oppressive wall of communism in Eastern Europe and Russia.

    The notion that gentleness, compassion, beauty, and kindness is an attribute relegated to the feminine side is complete hogwash. The Bible I have in front of me refers to God as Abba Father. Abba is Daddy, not Mommy. Jesus cried out to His Father, not His Mommy while agonizing in the Garden. The Bible I have in front of me refers to God as “He” and “Him”. The God of the Bible, although Spirit in nature, is expressly masculine in word and deed. There is no feminine side of God. If there is, it is only expressed in the minds of imaginative men and women who desire to make God into something HE isn’t.

    • http://twitter.com/happychatter happychatter

      So because I’m female I’m not made in the image of God because there is no feminine side of God, and I must fight to be more masculine in order to become more like God?

      One passage I think particularly demonstrates God’s feminine side is Matthew 23:37, where Jesus says “Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” If that’s not a mothering/feminine trait coming out there, I’m not sure what is.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1388514701 Greg Dill

        Made in the image of God has nothing to do with gender. It has all to do with His godly attributes. Before the fall, both Adam and Eve were made perfect like God in attributes and character (i.e. holy, obedient, loving, sinless, innocent, etc.).

        Because Jesus refers to illustrations with feminine qualities to it does not make Him any more feminine than if I were to read a storybook with a female character in it. I’m still a man just as God and Christ are both masculine.

        I believe all this gibberish about the feminine attributes of God is an affront to His holiness.

  • JMS

    I may sound as if I am both defending and disagreeing with this talk of God’s feminine side, but here are my thoughts on the subject:
    1. If there is no “feminine side” of God, then what did God mean when He made male and female and said they were made in HIS likeness/image? Both genders reflect Him!
    2. I’m glad in Christ we are one and the distinctions of male and female, bond and free, Jew and gentile are not recognized. But, I’m also glad the Word of God shows us that every good trait God created into man and woman can be seen in the person of Jesus. who is the exact representation of God!
    3. I do not like to hear men speaking of the feminine side of God. Why do we have to categorize sides of God into male and female? Why not just speak of the trait as a Godly trait and encourage men and women to emulate them all?

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