Seeing God Differently: God Is a Woman in Labor

by. Rev Doug Gray

What is that men don’t understand about women? In search of the answer, I compared two lists—one prepared by a woman and the other by a man. I found one in Cosmopolitan and the other in Women’s Health Magazine. The lists had a lot in common:

     Women Say Men Don’t Understand [1]
     Why we have so many pillows on our couch/bed
     Why we think romantic comedies are seriously life­giving.
     Why we need another shirt/dress/pair of shoes when we already have one that looks
     exactly like it.
     The difference between leggings, pantyhose, and tights.
     Why it takes so long to do eye makeup. You try to draw a straight line very close
     to the lash line.

     Men Say They Don’t Understand [2]
     Why you need so many throw pillows.
     You admit that romantic comedies are cheesy and predictable, yet you watch
      them anyway.
     My God—that closet.
     Why it takes you so long to get ready to go out.
     Your eyelash curler—What. The. Heck. Is that a torture device? or for self-defense?

I spent time thinking about this because I was trying to wrap my head around today’s passage from Isaiah, and Lauren Winner’s discussion in her book, Wearing God. In fact, I was going to skip this topic because of Pastor Appreciation Sunday last week, but I think this passage offers some insights just too amazing for words.
Just because it seems like a good idea to start by explaining my short-comings and my indebtedness, let me just say that I will never understand or explain this passage as well as a woman who has given birth. Let me also say up front that there is way more to being a woman than giving birth, and many women are mothers or give birth in other ways that are just as worth honoring. And finally, let me say how grateful I am to Clara and my wife for telling it like it is and letting me ask stupid, guy questions. And for Cynthia letting me be part of the birth of our children. Miraculous.
The first insight comes from breathing. If you look at verse 14, you’ll find three words that have to do with breathing—cry out, gasp and pant. All three are used by women to manage the pain. Lauren Winner writes, “…the groans of labor signal the woman’s active participation in the birthing process, a participation that does not fight the pain… God chooses to participate in the work of new creation with bellowing and panting. God chooses a participation that does not fight the pain, but that works from inside the pain.” And I wonder if God is like a woman in labor because God came and lived inside the pain (and joy) of human life. Is God like a woman in labor because God is willing to from inside the pain of my life?
The second insight is that a woman in labor is powerful. One day a large male lion decided to make sure that all the other animals knew he was the master of the jungle so when he came and roared, ’Who is the king of the jungle?’ they all said, ’Why, you are oh mighty lion!’ Finally, full of himself, he went to the elephant and roared, ’Who is the king of the jungle?’ The elephant reached out and grabbed the lion with her trunk, whirled him around in the air, body slammed him to the ground several times, then she flattened him against a large boulder. The beaten, bruised, and battered lion struggled to his feet. He looked up at the elephant and said — ’Look … just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean to have to take it so personally!’ The world usually thinks about power as strength to make people do something, or to resist someone who wants to make you do something. Giving birth has a different kind of power. Lauren Winner writes, “A woman in labor is a curious picture of sovereignty. A woman in labor cannot protect herself. She is dependent on others—and at the same time, she is exercising a profound power.” [5] Is God like a woman in labor because God is willing to be just as vulnerable and just as focused on bringing new life into the world?
The final insight comes from music and labor. The thing about breathing and panting is that it has a rhythm. Like a woman in labor, or really anyone doing something physically demanding, we often pick music that helps us into a good rhythm, that helps us time our movements, and relax into the pain. Verse 10 of our passage says, “Sing to the Lord a new song…” Is God inviting us to be the sound-track of God’s labor? Lauren Winner writes, “The next time you’re belting out a hymn in church, consider that the hymn is the music that helps the laboring mother God focus on delivery. Perhaps our music, our new song, helps God in birthing the new creation. God is redeeming us, yet we are the singers encouraging God in the work of delivering a renewed creation.” [6]
There’s so much I don’t understand about women, so much I don’t truly get about this image of God as a woman in labor. But as I discussed this passage with our Chaplain, Clara Sparks, we realized that this metaphor of giving birth is everywhere in the Bible. In the Exodus Story, for example, God has Moses lead the people through the waters, coming up out of them, like a baby being born. Even Jesus hanging on the Cross experiences excruciating pain, as God is in labor for our redemption and the redemption of the world. The dead Jesus is laid to rest in the hidden dark place of a tomb, and rises again to new life. And there are many times when the people of God are in labor, crying out in anguish, praying that God will have compassion on them, and over and over again, God hears their prayers, and answers by crying out, gasping and panting, struggling to bring something new into the world. And so we may sing today, so we may cry out in pain for God to deliver us, so we may cry out for God to deliver our nation, and God is at work in us and through us to bring into the world new life and justice. God gave up the usual human understanding of power on the Cross, to show us the ultimate power of self-sacrifice, and to call us to this new way of living. And it begins right now with breathing…

About Women:  Long
          Women Say Men Don’t Understand    
          Why it feels so good to take off your bra at the end of the day.     
          Why you’ll say something is fine when it’s not fine.     
          Why catcalling is never cute or complimentary    
          Why bras cost so much.    
          Why buying jeans is like stepping into hell and all of the jeans were made by the devil.    
          Why we have so many pillows on our couch/bed.    
          Why we need another shirt/dress/pair of shoes when we already have one that looks
          exactly like it    
         Why it takes so long to do eye makeup.    
         When you ask them to take a picture of you, you mean “upwards of 10.”    
        That period pain is very serious and real and no freaking joke.    
        Why we ask if we look fat in something.    
        Why we think romantic comedies are seriously life­giving.    
        Why we have 400 products in our bathroom and the weight of all of it
        practically buries us every time we open our medicine cabinet.    
        Girl drama.    
       The difference between leggings, pantyhose, and tights.    
       Lane Moore, Cosmopolitan, 2-23-16

     Men Say They Don’t Understand
     You take everything out of one bag and put it into another bag...and you do this all
     the time?
     Somehow, all the important stuff always goes to the bottom of that bag.
     It takes you six months to choose a haircut.
     Also, how is shopping a social activity?
     For that matter, how is peeing a social activity?
     What are you always talking about with your friends on the phone?
     Your eyelash curler—What. The. Hell.
     Why it takes you so long to get ready for bed.
     Why it takes you so long to get ready to go out.
     Why you need so many throw pillows.
     You admit that romcoms are cheesy and predictable, yet you watch them anyway.
     You wear heels even on nights when you know you’ll be walking a lot.
     Chocolate—it’s good, but it’s not THAT good.
     My God—that closet.
     What’s the deal with sparkly accessories?
     Two words: internet cats.
     Clint Carter, Women’s Health Magazine, 3-28-2014


[1]Lane Moore, “Fifteen Things Men Don’t Understand About Women,” Cosmopolitan, 2-23-16. http://www.cosmopolitan.com/sex-love/news/a54137/things-men-just-dont-understand-about-women.

[2]Clint Carter, “Twenty Things Men Will Never Understand About Women,” Women’s Health Magazine, 3-28-14, http://www.womenshealthmag.com/sex-and-love/men-dont-understand-women.

[4]www.sermoncentral.com

[5]Lauren Winner, p. 152

[6]Lauren Winner, p. 146.