I didn’t realize it.
If you asked me to my face, I’d tell you that God is not an old white man, robed and bearded, flanked by naked angels.
I’d tell you all about how God is like Jesus, not Santa Claus. I’d tell you God is Light, and God is Beauty, and most of all that God is Love.
If you asked me to my face, I’d tell you how I feel God in the ocean, how I hear God in the wind, how I see God in the face of my children.
And if you told me that I still believe in an old white male God, I’d be offended. But you’d be right.
Art has a way of forcing us to admit the truth we’d rather forget about ourselves. The truth is, if you asked me to identify the man in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, I’d say that’s God without even thinking about it. The truth is, this is my default.
I realized this under a carnival tent at Wild Goose last weekend, playing an innocent game of “Spin the Wheel of Divine Identity”.
My son spun the wheel, the artist-prophet pinned the face over Michelangelo’s “God”, and suddenly I was very uncomfortable.
The holy scowl and furious beard of the Almighty Jehovah had been replaced with the bright smile and dark skin of a woman.
“But, but, that can’t be God!” my mind sputtered. “God can’t be a… a…”
A what? God can’t be non-European? God can’t be smiling? God can’t be….?
“A woman! God can’t be a woman. After all, the Bible says…”
I cringed at the conversation going on inside my own head.
My theology should be better than this, broader than this by now. It shouldn’t still feel so heretical to see a woman’s face on the Divine.
It’s funny – all the arguments about how we should address the Divine ignore what the Bible says most clearly:
“God is not a man.” (Numbers 23:19 KJV)
It’s funny how I’m still comfortable with God as a human man, but not as a human woman. Especially a woman whose skin is so different from my own.
People love to cite all sorts of anthropomorphisms of the Divine, putting rules around the words we use to speak of Her. Maybe we’re just building boxes, as if we could ever contain the Vastness.
(It made me uncomfortable to write “Her” just there, because I know God is not a woman. But I’d have written “Him” without a second thought, though I know God is not a man. Funny.)
There’s this commandment in the Bible about how we aren’t supposed to make images of God.
Maybe God knew that we’d have a tendency to make those images look like ourselves, instead of allowing ourselves to be continuously made into the image of God.
Maybe God knew that the images we’d paint in our chapels and in our minds would remain a long, long time, profoundly shaping the way we think of the Divine.
Maybe God knew that an image would leave me thinking of God as an angry old white man, afraid to see the spark of the Divine in a smiling African woman.
I still believe in a white male god, angry and scowling and all. I wish I didn’t. Because when I make that my god, I miss the very real image of God right in front of me.
Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he told us that what we do to each other, we are doing to God?
Every human bears the fingerprints of the Divine.
We are all icons.
God has a face.
[ image: Michelangelo via Wikipedia ]
published July 2, 2014
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