The people who trust in the Lord
are like Mount Zion:
never shaken, lasting forever.
Mountains surround Jerusalem.
That’s how the Lord surrounds his people
from now until forever from now!
The wicked rod won’t remain
in the land given to the righteous
so that they don’t use their hands to do anything wrong.
Lord, do good to people who are good,
to people whose hearts are right.
But as for those people who turn to their own twisted ways—
may the Lord march them off with other evildoers!
Peace be on Israel! (CEB)
Psalms 120-134 comprise a collection of short songs of ascent meant to guide Jewish pilgrims in their communal trek up to the city of Jerusalem, and ultimately to the temple mount. The rhythm of the pious ancient Israelites centered round particular festivals, seasons, and Sabbath.
Taking the annual pilgrimage to the Holy City was an especially anticipated time of year. This yearly cycle bolstered their faith and gave the people some needed spiritual stability. The sameness of the routine and the ritual helped to remind the faithful of the solid theology that God cannot be moved and will always be there.
One of the most fundamental of all truths about God is divine consistency and constancy, that the Lord is forever present with God’s people. If God seems or feels distant or inattentive, it comes not from a place of uncaring. as though absent, aloof, or not listening. It simply means the Lord self-reveals on a divine timetable, not a human one. Our responsibility in the entire affair is to engage in consistent rhythms of spirituality that place us in a position to receive grace when God decides to give it.
Therefore, we must not despair but anticipate meeting with God, just as the Israelites of old looked forward and upward to their annual worship at the top of the mountain.
God continually surrounds people, even when we do not always perceive it to be so.
Basic sound theology, as we possess abundantly in the psalms, is neither gender specific nor gender neutral. To have a full orbed understanding of the God of the psalms means we use both male and female pronouns in our descriptions.
To limit God as an old white guy, or only as male, truncates a strong view of true divinity.
What I am suggesting here is that we avail ourselves of the full compliment of metaphors to present a more complete picture of God. Language is our vehicle in communication about the Lord, so let us use it to its entire extent to present the Lord in all his/her grandeur, majesty, holiness, and strength.
For example, as the psalmist likens God to a mountain chain surrounding Jerusalem, if we only picture this in our imaginations as a man, we have not quite got an integral picture. Although a muscular Christianity might provide us with an understanding of God’s sheer brute power, a maternal Christianity gives us a strength of provision, care, and protection from a different angle.
When Jesus came to Jerusalem, the city surrounded by mountains, he did not use a masculine metaphor to communicate to the people; he used a maternal one:
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.” (Matthew 23:37, NLT)
When the Apostle Paul wanted to communicate to the Thessalonian Church his deep concern for them, he went for the maternal metaphor:
We could have thrown our weight around as Christ’s apostles (like a man). Instead, we were gentle with you like a nursing mother caring for her own children (like a woman). We were glad to share not only God’s good news with you but also our very lives because we cared for you so much. (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8, CEB)
Indeed, in my culture when we want to convey the ultimate protective behavior of another, we describe them as a “mother bear.”
The gist of theology is this: God cannot be tied down or limited to gender, race, ethnicity, class, etc. The Lord is God, and we are not. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate, and I daresay necessary, to use both male and female pronouns and metaphors in describing God because the Lord of the universe created both male and female in his/her image. (Genesis 1:26-27)
This is neither taking liberal license of the psalms nor emasculating them; it is merely pointing out that God is Spirit, and we worship her/him in spirit and in truth. And the truth is that he is the mountains surrounding us as a manly sentinel over our lives; and she is the mountain chain encircling us with protective care for whom nobody better mess with us.
May the Lord do good to us, as the manly Rock of our salvation as well as the feminine Fortress of our souls, protecting us with the care of both a father and a mother.
Ever-present God, there is no place where I can go where you are not. Help me to so intuit your divine presence that it bolsters my faith and resilience for daily life in Jesus Christ. Amen.