A 2001 study conducted by Central Michigan University’s Department of Psychology sought to examine the impact of gender on concepts of “God.” The stories, by 435 undergraduates, were, according to the study, “then content analyzed for differences in story characteristics as a result of the gender of god.”
The same spirit of inquiry is at work in Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation, where author and cartoonist Liana Finck presents a highlights reel from the Old Testament in graphic novel form, recasting a famously vengeful and masculine God as an insecure and emotional female deity. What at first feels gimmicky gains impact over the course of the narrative, as God becomes increasingly alienated from humanity’s consistent misgendering and misunderstanding of her hopes for their relationship with her.
“Studying the Torah at Hebrew day school, I thought of it mostly as a portrait of one childlike (and therefore relatable) character full of feelings and desires: God,” writes Finck in her closing author’s note. “I’ve never really asked myself if I believe in God, but I’ve always been enchanted by her, the way I am by my favorite characters in stories.”
Finck’s reimagining not only presents traditional Old Testament stories in funnily truncated ways — a sort of “Drunk History” version of the Old Testament — but also mirrors the findings summarized in the CMU study, as well as those of a 1986 study of children’s god concepts by David Heller that revealed gender differences; the CMU study explains, “[Heller] found that boys tended to describe a ‘thinking and knowledgeable God’ (p. 57), whereas girls were more likely to describe a god that was ‘more intimacy-oriented than power-oriented.’”
Finck’s God is indeed intimacy oriented, constantly seeking the love of men and constantly being let down. Meanwhile, Finck cannily inserts feminist editorializing throughout her retelling, depicting generations of men who beget offspring with no mention of women, or noting that Noah and his sons are all named-checked in the Old Testament, but Noah’s wife is just, you know, “Noah’s wife.”
According to CMU, “Feminist theologians hypothesized that the culture’s male god-concept is detrimental to women in several ways. For example, the male god-concept can have an impact on general status of women in relation to men.” (Yeah, you think?) Finck, in her reframing, not only offers an alternate impression of God, but an opportunity to find a more affirmative relationship with the idea of a creator in general. After all, God is fundamentally depicted as a creator, and thus anyone with a creative spirit might draw upon that to find the divine within.
“My real aim in making this book is to demonstrate that each of us is allowed to create God (or Gods) in our image,” writes Finck. Amen, sister. Or maybe Awomen.
Let There Be Light: The Real Story of Her Creation by Liana Finck (2022) is published by Random House and is available online and in bookstores.