Female Images of God in Christian Worship

In the Spirituality of "TongSungGiDo</I> of the Korean Church

by Kim MyungSil (Author)
©2014 Monographs VIII, 138 Pages
Series: Liturgical Studies, Volume 2


Female Images of God in Christian Worship: In the Spirituality of TongSungGiDo of the Korean Church examines problems that arise from the use of exclusively patriarchal images in modern Christian worship. The author asserts that female images in the Bible could help worshippers find a relationship with God and provide encouragement and comfort in difficult situations. As a Korean Christian, MyungSil Kim explores the possibilities of employing God’s female images in the services of the Korean Church, noting that Korea’s native religions, the ancient religions and Muism, had many female deities unlike patriarchal foreign religions such as Buddhism and Confucianism. These female deities have comforted the Korean people when they experienced han, a distinctive emotion of deep sadness and resentment that is characteristically Korean. TongSungGiDo, the unique Korean prayer style of communal lament, provides an opportune space and time for the consideration of female images in the Bible. MyungSil Kim examines how female images could more effectively function in the context of TongSungGiDo in accordance with traditional practices to express the complementarity among the concepts of han, lament, female images of God, and prayer. This book is strongly grounded on biblical studies, feminist studies, Christian ethics, and religious studies, including principles of inculturation. The volume is a valuable resource to pastors who are sensitive about language justice in worship and to those seeking to explore feminist theology and particularly feminist liturgical studies.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Female Images of God in Christian Worship
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Image of God: A Self-Grammar in Worship
  • We are the Image of God
  • Mistaken Identity in Christian Worship
  • The Understandings of the Imago Dei
  • Female and Male as God’s Equal Images in Genesis
  • The Priestly (P) document: Genesis 1
  • The YHWHistic account (J document): Genesis 2-3
  • The Restored Image of God in the New Garden
  • Women’s Identity Marginalized by Male
  • The Exchanges of Sex/Gender Identity of Male Saints
  • The Steady Sex Identity Shown in Female Saints’ Lives
  • Understanding Sex/Gender Images of God Metaphorically
  • Metaphor in religious language
  • Humanity and Deity in Image and Likeness
  • God in Anthropological Figures
  • The size of God’s body in the Bible and Jewish literature
  • Why only partial exposure, sharing mainly God’s face?
  • The more testosterone flows, the more estrogen
  • Female-Women, Lament, and the Female Image of God
  • Summary
  • Chapter 2. In Her Image: The Traces of Female Deities
  • Goddesses in the Ancient Near East
  • The Sumerian Goddesses in Mesopotamia
  • The Mother Goddess who is the creator of gods and humanity
  • Goddesses and the civilization of Sumer
  • Inanna/ Ishtar, queen of heaven and earth
  • Laments and goddesses in Sumer
  • Anat/Anath, the Most Powerful Canaanite Goddess
  • Isis, Heavenly Queen in Egypt
  • The Asherah/ashreah in the Hebrew Religious Tradition
  • Asherah and the Monotheistic YHWHism
  • Asherah as Goddess and Consort of YHWH: The Archaeological Evidence
  • Asherah, a Cultic Object in Conjunction with Asherah alongside YHWH
  • The Misunderstood Asherah in Relation to YHWH in the Hebrew Bible
  • The Deuteronomistic Prohibition Against Asherahs
  • YHWH and the asherah as the reminder in the Hebrew Bible
  • The Significance of Asherah/asherah in the Ancient Israel
  • Conclusion
  • Chapter 3. Female References and Images for God in the Bible
  • Anatomical Female Images
  • The Womb Image
  • The Breast Image [in El Shaddai]
  • Motherly Female Images of God
  • The Birthing Image
  • The Nursing Image
  • The Wing Image: Protecting, Training, and Compassioning
  • God as Mother Zion
  • Female Images based on the Professional Role
  • The Midwife Image
  • The Female Supervisor(Mistress) Simile
  • Chapter 4. Female Images of God and the Korean Church
  • The Female Divine Worlds in Korean Myths and the Native Religion
  • Female Deities in the Korean Myths
  • The Mountain Goddesses
  • The Earth Mother and the Great Mother - Goddess of grain
  • The Goddesses of Sea and the Creator, Cheju Halmang
  • The Female Deities in Mugas (Hymns) of Muism
  • SamSinHalmi
  • BariDegi Princess
  • Other female deities in relation to justice in the tales of Muism
  • The Biblical Female Images of God in the Spirituality of TongSungGiDo
  • Han and Korean Christianity
  • Han and TongSungGiDo (TSGD)
  • The literal meanings of TSGD: a prayer of communal lament
  • TSGD and biblical references
  • TongSungGiDo as Prayer of Lament and Christian Worship
  • Good faith or bad faith
  • Lament, TSGD and justice
  • Lament, TongSungGiDo, and the Biblical Female Images of God
  • The female images of God as the response to the cry of lament
  • The spirituality of TSGD and the female images of God
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Books
  • Articles
  • Korean Books
  • Dictionaries
  • Electronic Resources
  • Index
  • Series index

← vi | vii → Acknowledgments

This book is based on my dissertation for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Liturgical Studies at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Ruth Duck is an important resource for this book, both through her excellent teaching and academic encouragement at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. Duck has shared with me her liturgical insights and experiences, encouraging me to deal with ethical issues in liturgical language and ritual that they are the primary theological background of this book. I also want to thank Johanna Van Wijk-Bos for working with me. As an Old Testament scholar at Louisville Theological Seminary, she provided the most important biblical references for God’s female images.

I am grateful to many people who have responded to my requests for information. These persons include Ron Anderson who helped me gain access to valuable sources about the relation between God’s image and worshipper’s identity, and the members in the Feminist Liturgy Group of the North American Academy of Liturgy who have commented upon part of the dissertation in final form as well as actively shared their experiences as feminist liturgical scholars.

It might have been impossible to complete this project without the love, care, and prayers of those who have been with me on my academic journey. I shouldn’t miss thanking my colleague David Gambrell, who read this book, giving me grammatical correction. I also owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my family: my husband, SungGap, my mother, sisters and brother for their steady love and support me in many ways.

Finally, I express my gratitude to everyone at Peter Lang Publishing for turning the dissertation into a book: (Heidi Burns, Jackie Pavlovic, and Stephen Mazur in the first stages). I extend a special thanks to Sylvia Sweeney as reader (series editor) for Peter Lang Press, who has provided a most helpful working plan for this project and worked closely with me in editing the final manuscript.← vii | viii →

← viii | 1 → Introduction

When I suffered from a gynecologic disease in my late twenties, I questioned whether God would know my physical pain and the subsequent mental and physiological sufferings. This was because I had been taught that female/woman is inferior to male/man, and only the male body represents God, the Father. In those days, I was hardly able to pray to God because I couldn’t find the appropriate words for God. If God is male, how could God know and be sympathetic to my suffering? Since then, my journey of exploring God’s gender in relation to the identity of worshipping women has continued.

During the journey, I recognized the deep contradiction between the biblical teaching in Genesis 1:26 that female and male are created according to God’s image and the Christian tradition’s hegemonic assumption that the female body cannot represent God’s image. It has inspired me to trace female images of God in the Bible and to examine the female deities in the religious traditions of the neighboring countries of ancient Israel and ancient Korea. It has encouraged me to seek ways to use such images in the context of Korean Christian worship.

While researching the biblical female images of God and the female deities in other religious traditions, I realized that the activities of female deities were primarily related to lamentable situations. Thus, I found an experimental setting for God’s female images in the Korean Church: TongSungGiDo (TSGD). TSGD, a particular form of lamenting prayer expressed in the Korean Church, developed as a direct response to the uniquely Korean emotion of han. Han is a concept that simultaneously describes both deep active racial resentment and passive lamentation; most hans of Koreans are collective. Han in both an active way and passive way, is caused by the sufferings from national misfortunes such as frequent invasions by neighboring nations and/or from other patriarchal oppressing powers.

As the collective conscious hans have accumulated over the centuries, the hans became the collective unconscious han of Korean. In other words, almost all Koreans are not free from this collective emotion of resentment and lamenting. Thus, the biblical female images of God shown in lamentable situations fit the spirituality of TSGD. Providing biblical female references for God in relation to lament when TSGD is practiced in Korean Christian worship and prayer meetings offers an excellent example of inculturation of worship for ← 1 | 2 → Korean lament, based on the unique national feelings and emotions of Korean worshippers.

Biblical female images of God, especially motherly ones, heal hanful people more effectively than patriarchal male/masculine images of God, because many lamenting situations in humanity result from patriarchal societies and the overwhelming power exerted by patriarchy. Patriarchal images of God, in fact, work negatively in dealing with the emotion of han which is often caused by the patriarchal oppressing powers.

This book draws primarily on literary sources, particularly those related to the Bible. The Bible translation used in this research is the New Revised Standard Version. I limit the scope of my research to theoretical study, hoping that I will write some examples of worship services for local churches in the near future, based on the spirituality of TSGD and biblical female images of God related to lament. Meanwhile, the Korean Church in my dissertation mostly excludes the Catholic Church, for the Korean Catholic Church has developed independently of other Christian churches with no TSGD.

The first chapter deals with complex issues of Christian identity when God is depicted only with one sex/gender image and examines how the Bible testifies to female and male as God’s image. “The discussion of the grammar of the self” examines how references for God affect the self-sense of the worshipping women in relation to God. An expanded self-grammar teaches worshipping women who they are as female Christians and how they might live in resonance with the grammar received through their chosen worship practices.

The second chapter traces female deities in the religious myths of the ancient Near East, myths that possibly influenced the religious traditions of Israel. It examines the female deity, Asherah or female reminder, asherah, in relation to the masculine image of YHWH (El), asserting that an understanding of God as a male/female pair is not contradictory to monotheism for the ancient Israelites, and balancing sex metaphors for God does not contradict the concept of one God in Christianity.

The third chapter explores biblical female references and images of God, particularly in the Hebrew Bible. Here, the focus is on embodied female images of God rather than other spiritual figures described through grammatical feminine naming. This chapter demonstrates that biblical female references for God are primarily associated with passages of consolation for those in the midst of lament. This affirms a similar pattern in relation to the use of female God images to what was described in relation to other female deities of the ancient Near East in chapter two. The last chapter examines female deities in ← 2 | 3 → the Korean native religious traditions, and answers the question of whether biblical female references and images could work for the Korean Church, given the pervasive influence of the aggressive or overpowering patriarchal ideas of Buddhism and Confucianism. Female imagery of deities is not strange to the general public of Korea and thus the effective use of female references for God in Korean Christianity is not impossible. In the mind of Korean Christians, biblical female imagery could substitute for the native female deities who have been with them, consoling and healing their hans from very ancient times. Defining TSGD as communal lamenting prayer based on han, I assert that these biblical female images of God are absolutely necessary for those who are lamenting to God in TSGD, as well as for those seeking their own identities in resonance with God’s female images. ← 3 | 4 →


VIII, 138
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2014 (June)
encouragement emotion feminist theology
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 138 pp.

Biographical notes

Kim MyungSil (Author)

MyungSil Kim is Adjunct Professor at Presbyterian College and Theological Seminary in Seoul, Korea. She received her PhD in liturgical studies from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. At present, she is a member of the local worship committee for WCC 10th Assembly. In addition, she serves as vice-secretary of the Korean Society for Practical Theology and was a past secretary of the Korea Association of Liturgy. She is a member of the Feminist Liturgy Seminar of the North American Academy of Liturgy and the Korean Association of Women Theologians. Before she earned her doctorate, Kim worked as a member of the Board of Directors in the Korean Christian Women Counseling Center for victims of domestic violence and as a parish minister in Korea.


Title: Female Images of God in Christian Worship
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