Do you know which five characters get the most scripture coverage in the Old Testament? God (by various names), Job, Moses, David and Wisdom (or Sophia, as she is known in Greek). Sophia come in fifth on the list! If you add in her “air time” in the Apocryphal writings, she moves up to second place. But how many of you have ever heard a sermon on her? (For the full audio version of this sermon, click here.)
In the 16 years of my ministry even I hadn’t preached on her! Never mind that she is a huge Biblical figure. Never mind that scholars have been talking about her for decades. To really tell the truth about her importance in the ancient Israelite and early Christian communities comes close to heresy for most people. I’m grateful that in this community I can talk about Sophia and know that you are curious and fascinated, if nothing else.
So, here is a brief low-down on Sophia.
Sophia (Wisdom) was more than just the personification of an attribute of God. She was a person and a cosmic reality. Scripture shows that she was the functional equivalent of God in creation, continuing creation, power, stature, demands for people to follow, characteristics… and as such she was Israel’s God in feminine form. She is Queen of Heaven, a messenger from God and God’s lover. She was the epitome of the ancient Mother Goddesses, except that she was limited and marginalized by monotheistic male-centric Judaism.
The repression of Sophia’s power as a divine figure began with the philosopher, Philo who substituted a personified, masculine Logos (“word” in Greek) for Sophia. At first Logos was equal to Sophia, then Logos was substituted for Sophia, until Logos took over most of Sophia’s divine roles. Philo then demoted Sophia to “ever-virgin,” “Maiden” “daughter of God,” effectively taking away her power. And then in the 3rd and 4th centuries the early church fathers abandoned all references to Sophia in relationship to Jesus (that’s another sermon) and she disappeared from western theological consideration.
Why do we hear nothing about her now? She is considered nothing more than a personification of a concept. No one is taught the implications she had for ancient Hebrews and for early followers of Jesus. She has been rendered barren…no longer a mother, a Great Mother Goddess, a Queen of Heaven. She has become unimportant.
And yet for women she can be hugely important. Sophia opens up a new way of thinking about, imagining, and relating to the divine. She opens up a world where women, at long last, can identify directly with the divine. Sophia affirms women in a way that God imaged as a male cannot do.
The more I study our scriptures, tradition and history, the more I realize how much knowledge and scholarly research has been censored. Groups of people throughout the ages have determined for us who God is and who God is not, who God likes and who God doesn’t like, who Jesus is and who he is not. And, unknowingly we’ve been willing to go along, believing that we’ve been told the “Truth” the only “Truth” and nothing but the “Truth.” Certain beliefs have been so ingrained in us that it feels blasphemous to even consider a concept like Sophia.
My goal is not for you to ditch the male God or your way of thinking and believing, but to offer you more perspectives, more information, and more ways to know and understand God. I know it would be easier if I stuck to the traditional theological statements, maybe the creeds. But then I would be censoring what I’ve learned from you out of fear of what you might feel or say or think. Out of fear of making you uncomfortable.
Sometimes we need to be made uncomfortable in order to grow.
I’m inviting you to keep growing with me, to have a spirit of adventure and a thirst for new ideas, to bring your spirit and let it expand in the love, strength and creative vitality of Sophia, Divine Mother of the Universe.
So be it.