Reviewed by Christina Tinglof | August 10, 2016
Once at an international missions conference, missionaries were sharing stories about translation mistakes. “We were translating ‘How Great Thou Art,’” one told us, “but the translation ended up as ‘What a big woman you are, God!’”
Everyone in the room laughed, even me, until I stopped and thought, “Wait, what’s so funny about that?”
Many of us have definitive, well-used images of God that we return to, that serve as a source of comfort or security for us. God as father or king, God as shepherd or rock. Many of us have also encountered images of God that challenge us, that make us a bit less comfortable—like God as a big woman. In her latest book, Wearing God, Lauren Winner explores six lesser known (or maybe just lesser engaged with) images of God in Scripture. In her signature wry, witty style, tinged with slightly excessive self-consciousness, Winner wrestles with God as clothing, as bread and vine, as laboring woman, as laughter, and as flame, holding in tension with those images our inherent inability to speak completely about who God is.
While some chapters didn’t speak to me as much as others (I struggled with the section on God’s laughter, especially), Winner is an expert at inviting conversation. She doesn’t try to convince the reader of anything, but offers reflections based on her own and others’ experiences, on the prayers and poetry from theologians and mystics throughout history. She isn’t afraid to let difficult questions hang in the air, or to sit with ways of seeing or understanding God that might be painful or disconcerting. Wearing God is part journal, part academic writing, part history, and part unfinished, left for the reader to complete, filling in the blank spaces with the images of God that resonate with us.
The older I get, the more I realize that there is very little I actually know, especially about the nature of the divine. With every image Winner introduced for me in this provocative book, with every metaphor for God I have encountered or reencountered in my Christian life, I come to know God a little more and a little less, all at the same time. This is the paradox of God. The more intimately we come to experience God, the more we become exposed to the mystery of God, at once tenderly known and vastly unknowable.