Q: Was there a female goddess inside the ark of the covenant? I don't know why I feel that there is a female part of God. I sincerely do need clarity on this. — U
A: The only things inside the ark were the tablets of the law, the broken pieces of the first tablets that Moses smashed, a golden jar filled with the manna the people ate during their wanderings in the desert, and the flowering wooden staff of Aaron (check out my Rosh Hashana sermon of a few weeks ago). The ark of the covenant did have two winged figurines on top of its cover called cherubim. They are, however, of undetermined gender. There is no goddess in the ark because in the Hebrew Bible God is not a guy or a gal. God is referred to by the masculine pronoun in the Bible because there is no neutral pronoun in biblical Hebrew. In Hebrew you cannot say "It." Of course, the ancient Hebrews could have referred to God as she, but they did not and that grammatical choice led to the common misconception of God as a big old guy with a beard floating on a cloud. That image does not even work for kids, and it should not work for adults.
Let us get that big theological point out of the way. We — male and female — are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). God is not made in the image of us.
Christianity has a problem with the gender neutrality of God because Jesus was a guy and Jesus is, for Christians, God. The Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is two-thirds masculine. To correct this theological misperception the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
"In no way is God in man's image. He is neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes. But the respective 'perfections' of man and woman reflect something of the infinite perfection of God: those of a mother and those of a father and husband." — CCC 370.
I am not certain that this statement completely clears up the masculine nature of the Trinity, but then again I am just a rabbi. For Jews and Muslims, who do not have to deal with the belief in the divinity of Jesus, the belief in a genderless God is easier. On the other side of the world, Hinduism believes in many gods, both masculine and feminine, both animal and humanlike, so the issue is also easy for polytheistic religions that are surrounded by many gods and goddesses.
After clearing the waters about God in the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, let me now muddy those waters. It may be true that God is genderless and invisible, but it is very hard to believe in such a God. The problem is that the closest metaphor we have for God is that God is like a parent and (when it comes to procreation) we have two of them — one of each gender. We want God to be our Father and our Mother. We want a strong protector and that trait has been traditionally considered masculine. We also want a nurturer and that trait has been traditionally considered feminine. We want both because a mother and a father are everything and God is everything. What we really want is a patriarchy and a matriarchy together in one God, and that is precisely the muddy truth our faiths provide us:
The God who creates is masculine. The God whose spirit flutters over the chaotic waters of creation is feminine. The God of Psalm 89:26 is referred to as, "Thou art my Father, My God, and the rock of my salvation." The God of Isaiah (42:14) is pregnant with the birthing of a new nation, "like a woman in labor I will moan; I will pant, I will gasp." The ancient rabbis wrote prayers to a God who is "Our Father, Our King," but they also wrote prayers celebrating God's feminine part, called in Hebrew the Shekinah, who remains in exile with the people Israel.
My view is that I accept all metaphors for God that are meant to be inclusive and healing. As long as we are in love with a God in full, it makes perfect sense to me to call upon that God with every pronoun we possess.
In Luke 13:34 we read, "How often I have wanted to gather your people just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings."
I am not certain that I can get to God as a chicken, but then again, God is not through with me yet.
SEND QUESTIONS AND COMMENTS to The God Squad at email@example.com or Rabbi Marc Gellman, Temple Beth Torah, 35 Bagatelle Rd., Melville, NY 11747.