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Reflection: 09-10 (Part 2)


[This is the conclusion of a Reflection on God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality by Phyllis Trible. Part 1 can is here.]

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Back to Trible. Her exegesis is amazing! I had never noticed that ‘gender’ or sexuality had not been introduced until Genesis 2. She makes careful observation in that, with the animal creation, neither gender nor sexuality is even mentioned (though, I would state that the animals can’t ‘produce offspring of the same kind’ without it, so it seems implied to me at least). However, with the creation of the woman, the ‘earth creature’ declared that itself was a ‘man’. Here, Trible believes that sexuality was introduced and along with it, sexual love, since it wasn’t just ‘male and female’ but ‘man’ and ‘women’. She makes the case that it is when the ‘man’ is ‘united with his woman’ that the image of God is seen in fullness. But, she is also quick to point out:

Unity embraces plurality in both the human and the divine realms.  But sexual differentiation of humankind is not thereby a description of God. Indeed, the metaphorical language of Genesis 1.27 preserves with exceeding care the otherness of God (pg. 37).

While we see God in both male and female people, if we only see one or the other we get a lop-sided view of God even metaphorically and subconsciously. And that is what a lot of the biblical story tells us. She has to dig to find the female image of God within the story. But find it she does! In chapter two, Journey of a Metaphor, Trible explores this ‘female’ image of God by focusing on the most notable female image of all - the womb.

The foundational story for her investigation is the story of two women and their children. As the story goes (1Kings 3.16-28), two prostitutes ( ‘an identification - not a judgement’, pg, 48) lived alone in the same house and each gave birth to a son within three days of each other. One night, one of the women accidentally smothered her child while sleeping with it. Before the next one woke up, she swapped her dead son with the other woman’s live son. In the morning, the woman awoke to find the dead child, and at first, thought it was hers. After a while, she suspected what happened and the women went to King Solomon to settle the dispute. Upon hearing the story and the women arguing over whose son the living child really was, Solomon decided to split the child in two and give a half to each woman. Upon hearing his ruling, the child’s mother pleaded, ‘Oh no, my lord! Give her the child—please do not kill him!’ while the other woman stated, ‘All right, he will be neither yours nor mine; divide him between us!’ Because of this, Solomon determined that the first woman was really the child’s mother and awarded the child to her.

From this story, Trible goes back to the Hebrew of the text and picks up on the word racham in verse 26 which means ‘compassion’ and ‘womb’. From this, she states ‘Motivated by compassion (racham), this women is willing to forfeit even justice for the sake of life’ (pg. 49).  Further, ‘According to the story, the presence of a love that knows not the demands of ego, of possessiveness, or even of justice reveals motherhood’ (ibid.).   Continuing further,

The motivational clause, ‘because her racham [compassion] yearned for her son’ (v. 26), provides the key word. Difficult to translate in the fullness of its imagery, the Hebrew noun racham connotes simultaneously both a mode of being and the locus of that mode. In its singular form the noun rehem means ‘womb’ or ‘uterus’. In plural form, racham, this concrete meaning expands to the abstractions of compassion, mercy, and love . . . Accordingly, our metaphor lies in the semantic movement from a physical organ of the female body to a psychic mode of being. It journeys from the concrete to the abstract. ‘Womb’ is the vehicle; ‘compassion’, the tenor. To the responsive imagination, this metaphor suggests the meaning of love as selfless participation in life. The womb protects an nourishes but does not possess and control. It yields its treasure in order that wholeness and well-being may happen. Truly, it is the way of compassion (pgs. 49-50).

Her investigation continues with the finding that, while ‘womb is an organ unique to women, men also participate in the journey of this biblical metaphor’ (pg. 50). And from there, she leads us through various passages until  we eventually end up with God having racham. Trible quotes Psalm 103.13:

As a father shows compassion [racham] upon his children,
So Yahweh shows compassion [racham] upon those who fear him.

This appearance of divine compassion signals another semantic movement for our metaphor: the journey from the wombs of women to the compassion of God (ibid.).

She then continues with several more examples and passages that we won’t get into here (for this is quite long already). Suffice it to say, Psalm 103.13 is telling. The fact that the poet used the word form for ‘womb’ shows us that God’s compassion is deeper than we imagine. This shows us that a deep ‘womb-like’ compassion is not only something that women feel, but men and even God feels as well. I want to press this a little bit further.

The NETBible translates this word rasham in 1Kings 3.26 as ‘motherly instincts’. Now, if we supply that translation to Psalm 103.13, we get both men and God having ‘motherly instincts’. What I’m driving at is that these so-called ‘motherly instincts’ are not gender specific. And that means, like Trible clearly shows in her book, that God has womb like compassion for creation. Something that goes beyond what a lot of men can comprehend let alone grasp. This would explain to me, experientially, why there are more women in spiritual practices than there are men (at least here in the U. S.). To put it as plainly as possible, God has very deep feminine characteristics that have, up until recently, been covered up for whatever reason. The fact that the word racham has multiple meanings shows us that there is a deeper connection here that we are just now beginning to realize. And this is just one attribute! I’m sure that there are many more of the ‘best in women’ that we can look into that would help us get a better image of God. At the very least, we should look deeply at our Daughters, Grandmothers, Mothers, Sisters, and Wives and see God within them and experience new ways of seeing God because of them. When we do this, I’m certain that we will find God showing Herself to us in new, life-giving ways.



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In the Love of the Three in One,
Jack+, LC

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