I remember when I first suggested The Shack to sister Barbara Fields. I told her how impressed that I was with it, and she had read some other books I recommended. (She was totally a disbeliever in Christian Fiction books, until I got her to read Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers; she called me a few hours later bawling her eyes out and telling me she was sorry and wanted to read every Christian Fiction book I had at my disposal). Well, Barb’s first reaction when reading the first couple of chapters of the Shack can only be described as absolute HORROR. She called me and said, “Babes, I can’t read this, it’s sacrilegious!” I said, “How do you mean?” She said, “Mark, this says that God is a fat black woman named Papa! Won’t God be upset by being called a woman?”
However, she did raise some very interesting points. The Bible usually (notice the word USUALLY) refers to God as male (He, His, Father, etc.). Does this mean that God is male? Does God have a gender? Is it ever correct to refer to God as “she?” Young certainly does in the Shack. He portrays God as a heavy-set African American woman. He does this (as he explains) in order to get past Mackenzie’s preconceptions about God-that God was a tall white man with a flowing beard like Gandalf watching over everything.
When I first started studying this, I was pretty surprised by what I found. The fact is, several times in Scripture, God proclaims clearly that He is NOT MALE. He also points out in one passage that He is absolutely neither MALE nor FEMALE. And, He (?) identifies Himself (?) as a Female in several passages.
Buckle your seat-belts!!
(I still remember the looks I got at Hazard Village when I shared this information lol).
First, God is neither male nor female literally. He expressed this to His people plainly in the Old Testament:
Deuteronomy 4:15-18- 15 “Take careful heed to yourselves, for you saw no form when the LORD spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, 16 lest you act corruptly and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of any figure: the likeness of male or female, 17 the likeness of any animal that is on the earth or the likeness of any winged bird that flies in the air, 18 the likeness of anything that creeps on the ground or the likeness of any fish that is in the water beneath the earth.
Did you see it? God told the people not to make any likeness of Him since He clearly revealed to them on Mount Sinai that He did not have the form of anything like creatures on Earth-and especially notice that it is in regard to “male or female.” One authority says this:
“The clearest teaching on this subject is found in Deuteronomy 4:15- 16: “So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female” (NASB). In this way, imaging God as male or female is considered idolatry, suggesting strongly that the biblical tradition is against attributing gender to God. Despite the fact that Scripture often uses language for God that is suitable for a masculine person, God is not like a human male in His form or character.” (Ed Hindson & Ergun Caner, The Popular Encyclopedia Of Apologetics, 244-245 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers)
Specifically, God says that he is not a man (i.e., male) in at least two passages:
Numbers 23:19 (International Standard Version)-God is not a human male—he doesn’t lie, nor is he a human being—he never vacillates. Once he speaks up, He’s going to act, isn’t he? Once he makes a promise, He’ll fulfill it, won’t he?
Hosea 11:9-I will not execute the fierceness of My anger; I will not again destroy Ephraim. For I am God, and not man, The Holy One in your midst; And I will not come with terror.
In writing about the Da Vinci Code (a famous book/movie about the heretics, the Gnostics), consider this:
“First, we have to understand that the God of the Bible, though called our heavenly Father, has no gender-He has no genitalia, no X or Y chromosomes. God is spirit (see John 4:24), and the mystery of His Person goes way beyond anything thing we humans can imagine. It is in that sense-in terms of His spiritual nature-that the Bible describes us as created “in his image” (Genesis 1:27). He is the Person from whom our “personness” is derived, both male and female. That’s not to say we should describe Him as androgynous. God created male and female genders; they don’t define Him. He created us “male and female” for a number of reasons, one of which was to express in the created universe some diverse elements that reflect His own character. So even while the Bible most often refers to God by masculine names and pronouns (such as “Father” and “he”), sometimes he is compared to a mother holding a newborn or to a hen guarding ing her chicks (see Matthew 23:37; Isaiah 49:15). (James Garlow & Peter Jones, Cracking Da Vinci’s Code, 180-187 (Kindle Edition); Colorado Springs, Co; David@Cook)
Isn’t that neat?
Then there is the fact that often in Scripture, God likens Himself (?) to a woman.
Psalm 123:2-Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us.
Isaiah 42:1414 “I have held My peace a long time, I have been still and restrained Myself. Now I will cry like a woman in labor, I will pant and gasp at once.
Isaiah 66:12-13-12 For thus says the LORD: “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, And the glory of the Gentiles like a flowing stream. Then you shall feed; On her sides shall you be carried, And be dandled on her knees. 13 As one whom his mother comforts, So I will comfort you; And you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”
Psalm 131:2-Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, Like a weaned child with his mother; Like a weaned child is my soul within me.
Hosea 13:8-8 I will meet them like a bear deprived of her cubs; I will tear open their rib cage, And there I will devour them like a lion. The wild beast shall tear them.
Matthew 23:37-O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
These are some of the passages where God refers to Himself (…) as a woman (Woman-if we capitalize the “M” in “man” when referring to God, shouldn’t we also capitalize the “W” in “woman” when referring to God?) The Shack hits upon a powerful Biblical fact that has either been forgotten, unknown, or willfully ignored. God is beyond our full comprehension; He is neither male, nor female. Indeed, the special characteristics inherent in maleness and femaleness find their ultimate origin in God’s perfect Nature.
In another post, I will share some thoughts about why I believe the Messiah had to be “male” and not “female.”
Papa? Yes, He/She is vastly and infinitely great. And within His perfect incomprehensibleness is a love that cares for us and elevates us more than we can ever imagine.
Psalm 139:6- Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; It is high, I cannot attain it.