"Pretentious caricature of God as a fat Black woman is dangerous and false.”
We can attribute the above quote to Joe Schimmel, the pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley, California. He expressed that sentiment during a December interview on the Christian News Network. What Pastor Schimmel was referencing, was his contempt of the film adaptation of the Christian book ‘The Shack’ which was released in March of 2017. In the film, Oscar winner and African American actress, Octavia Spencer will play the role of God.
Pastor Schimmel elaborated further on his opinion by saying, “Young’s pretentious caricature of God as a heavy set, cushy, non-judgmental, African-American woman called ‘Papa,' who resembles the New-Age Oprah Winfrey far more than the one true God revealed through the Lord Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1.1-13.”
Now other than the obvious apparent prejudice which is ambiguously expressed by Pastor Schimmel that his view of God is the clichéd white skinned, brown haired, blue eyed Jesus, popularized by European artwork of the 4th century; there is something else inherently wrong with Paster Schimmel’s statement.
In the film, Octavia Spencer will play the role of God, however, the movie stays faithful with the book, and the entire Holy Trinity is depicted. This includes the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman, and Jesus Christ as a Middle-Eastern carpenter. So it isn’t that Pastor Schimmel takes exception to Ms. Spencer playing Jesus. Rather, his issue is with her representing God.
A survey by the American Bible Society found that 80% of America consider the Bible to be a sacred text. However, only 26% stated they read the Bible on a regular basis. Now, one would assume that Pastor Schimmel would not be one of those within that 26% since indeed Biblical knowledge is the exact basis of his entire job. However, in my opinion I consider Pastor Schimmel was completely baseless in his comments and I will use the Bible itself as evidence.
I can read and write modern and Biblical Hebrew. I have given lectures on ancient Hebrew semantics and how they can provide immense contributions to a reader when you understand the original language of the Bible. The Hebrew language is a semantic language. Therefore some Hebrew words do not directly translate into precisely comparable English counterparts. Essentially, some words in Hebrew would require three for four English words just to get across their meaning.
Now, I have told people if you want actually to understand God, you only have to read the first two verses of the Bible. In Genesis 1.1 the first Hebrew, name for God is introduced. In Hebrew the word is אלוהים pronounced Elohim. The “ים” or “im” at the end of the word is representative in Hebrew of the word being plural. In essence, the word should directly translate to “gods” not God. The Hebrew word for God singular would be אלוה or Eloh. However, as we all know the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are based on monotheism, so why would the ancients have written the word for God as “gods?”
Well, the answer for that, in my opinion, is found in the second verse of Genesis 1.2. In this verse, the Hebrew word “מים” pronounced May’im. May'im is the Hebrew word for “water.” Notice it has the same Hebrew pluralization at the end, and often it translated into English as “waters.”
So I consider, it is those two words in the very first verses of the Bible that sum up exactly what God is. The pluralization of the Hebrew word for God wasn’t used to suggest that there is a pantheon of gods. Rather, God is plural in the same since that water is plural. Water is everywhere. All of life depends on water for sustainability. However, water comes in a multitude of forms, and fashions. Water can be boiling hot or freezing cold. Water can evaporate and reappear in a completely different area. Water can freeze, turn into ice and form a solid, immovable object. Water can be as small as a raindrop, or it can be as vast as the oceans. There is no more vital, powerful and uncontrollable physical force on the entire planet than water. Not enough water and human life cease to exist. Conversely, if one becomes overconfident and doesn’t respect the power water can wield, one could quickly find themselves consumed by water's power and drowning.
In essence, God, like water can be emulated in a limitless number of ways; including a heavy set African American woman. Now, this is further confirmed in one of my favorite verses in all of the Bible. Exodus 3.11-15 is the recounting of the famous Moses and the burning bush incident. During Moses’ exchange with God, Moses virtually begs God not to make him have to go free the Hebrew slaves. At one point, Moses suggests to God that the Hebrews won’t believe God sent him, and what will he tell them if they ask “what is God’s name?” The Lord's response is one that I consider being the most profound statement in all of the canonical texts; God says to Moses, “אהיה אשר אהיה” pronounced “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh.” The best way to translate this into English is that God said to Moses, “I will be what I will be.”
Lastly, I could point out to Pastor Schimmel, that the very same verses he uses to justify his stance, Hebrews 1.1-13, in my opinion, confirm that his view is rooted on misinterpretation. This chapter and these verses discuss how Jesus Christ is the exact representation of God’s nature and character.
Now, I can express my character through written word here on Facebook, by a letter, or even a phone call. You can never see my face, however, through various methods of communication you can get a real sense of my character and who I am.
It is important to note again, that actress Octavia Spencer plays the character of God and not that of Jesus Christ. So in essence, the film does not violate any biblical texts, and you can’t even say that it is a liberal adaptation. Because in Genesis 1.1-2 the original Hebrew language presents the concept of God possessing the ability to appear in a limitless number of forms. Furthermore, the verses in Exodus 3.11-15, explicitly says God can be whatever he wants to be, or in this case, she wants to be.
The most dangerous threat to the purity of religious belief isn’t that God could be a “heavy-set black woman.” Rather, the most dangerous threat to religious faith is when someone picks out pieces of religious texts and interrupts them as justifications for their prejudices. In fact, this is covered as well in the Bible, in Exodus 20.7, with “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord God in vain.” The Hebrew word that is translated as vain in English is שוא pronounced Sha. In Hebrew, this word means, “emptiness of speech or lying.” In fact, what this entire verse, popularly known as the third of the ten commandments, is actually saying is, “Don’t engage in hypocritical behavior and falsely represent God’s words or character for your own selfish means.”
In closing, I will say, I do not try to pretend that I know what God's appearance actually is. Nor do I claim to know, a fraction of all of the wisdom contained within the vastness of our universe. However, I can say that based on what was transcribed in the Bible thousands of years ago, it never explicitly says that God is a heavy set black woman, however, it also never says that God isn’t.
Additionally, I might what to point out to Pastor Schimmel that Moses wife, Zipporah is described as being a Cushite woman. Cush was a thriving Black African civilization location south of Egypt. Therefore, Moses was married to a black African woman and was the father (at a minimum) of two biracial children, Gershom and Eliezer. Now, Aaron and Miriam thought it was a good idea to speak poorly of Moses having a Cushite wife in Numbers 12.1. The Bible says God was none too pleased with this and as a result afflicted Miriam with leprosy.
So personally, I am going to stick to my interpretation and say that if God wants to be a black woman, then assuredly that is what God will be.