Friday, March 10
“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27).
The familiar, traditional reading of this passage, from the King James Version, is “Let us make man;” the NRSV instead reads, “Let us make humanity” (Gen 1:26). This is not “political correctness,” whatever that bugaboo of our times may mean: it is a matter of accurate translation. In Hebrew, the word for “man” is ‘ish. But that is not the word used here. In Genesis 1:27, God creates ‘adam, which means “humanity.” It is particularly important that we translate ‘adam correctly here, because Genesis 1:27 goes on very plainly to state “male and female [God] created them”! Masculinity and femininity, maleness and femaleness, are both reflections of God-likeness in this verse. There is no hierarchy of the sexes here, no basis for regarding women as inferior to men.
Our traditions have not always been equal to this insight—yet here it is, at the very beginning of the Bible! Sexism is denied any legitimate place in God’s rightly ordered world. Further, to say that both maleness and femaleness represent “God-likeness” is also to say that God is neither male nor female—or more accurately, that masculinity and femininity alike reflect aspects of God. While the dominant images of God in the male-centered culture of ancient Israel were masculine, there are texts that depict God in feminine terms—for example, as midwife (Psalm 22:9-10) and as mother (Hosea 11:1-4). Further, one of the dominant features of Israel’s theology from early on, central to the foundational texts of Israel’s covenant with God, was the absolute refusal to make any image representing God (see Exodus 20:4-6; Deuteronomy 5:7-10), for no one image can adequately express the One whom Pulitzer Prize-winning African American novelist Alice Walker calls “That Which Is Beyond Understanding But Not Beyond Loving” (Alice Walker, The Color Purple [Orlando: Harcourt, 1982; preface 1992], vii). All of our language about God—including God as “King,” “Lord,” or even as “Father”— must be held lightly, because whatever image of God we have in our minds, God is not that! Inasmuch as our images of God open us up to become channels of God’s love and peace into the world, they serve their purpose. But if our images of God shut us off from one another, they also shut us off from God; they become, in that moment, idols that kill.
Prayer: God our Mother and Father, our Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, give us a hunger for you that will not be satisfied by the thin gruel of our own conceptions and imaginings. We long to know you, not to know about you, but we cannot know you if we close our hearts and minds and ears to half of your image in humanity. Open our eyes to your image manifest in women and men alike. Through Jesus, who made the Samaritan woman the first missionary (John 4:39-42), Amen.