A few weeks ago, I wrote a two part series on sexism in the Bible (here's one and two). After I posted it, a good friend from college asked me why I referred to God by the male pronoun and whether I would have a problem referring to God as "she."
"Good question," I replied. "Why don't you write a guest post about it."
This is that guest post, written by old college buddy, Joseph Graves, and his friend, Derek Horton. They're both students at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, OH.
Before let them talk about the theological and pastoral problems of associating God with masculinity, maybe it would be best to acknowledge those negative associations we have--as a society, as a church, as men--with femininity. The video above has been making the rounds on social media. It's a good example of how calling someone a girl is an insult, not a compliment. Keep that particular expression of sexism in mind as Derek and Joseph talk about God exhibiting female characteristics.
In Genesis 1:27 it clearly states that both male and female were created in God’s image. If we flip this around, it is safe to assume that both male and female attributes stem from God.
There are, despite what some might think, consequences to this. God is constant: from everlasting to everlasting. So the changing whims of culture that shift our own understanding of what it means to be male or female are not a safe or adequate way to speak about God; at best they are incomplete.
Genesis reminds us that we are made in God’s image, but men are not a more accurate image of God are they? (By the by, the correct answer to that last rhetorical question was ‘no.’) We are both in our culture and subject to our culture. So when we hear the word ‘male,’ we cannot separate ourselves from a myriad of culturally specific meanings.
Therefore, only naming the masculinity of God limits the faith experience of women who hear it. One might say that I should not be speaking as if I know what it’s like be a woman in a church, but if a male hears me refer to God as a woman and it feels jarring, then I can assume we are more affected and effected by gender titles than we know.
It is not wrong to worship our Heavenly Father, or look on His wonder, but all of us are missing out on our fullest experience of God until we can expand our language. It may be best to assume that God is greater than our limited human expressions of gender, and therefore it is best to leave out gender pronouns all together. Our prayers, liturgies, and songs are not dependent on a pronoun after all, and we have enough names for God that they are not necessary either. But if we must, we should also expand our pronouns to see God’s expression in all people’s lives.
A woman who is finally separating herself from a psychological dependence on her abusive husband could possibly find more peace if she could pray to the God who is reaching out Her celestial arms like all of the bold, brave, courageous church foremothers.
A man who is being consumed from the inside out with rage -- whose life desperately needs more tenderness and mercy, more grace and more gentleness just so he can stay alive -- should be able to call out to his Mother-God for peace.
We will forever limit our understanding of an infinite God if we continue only using pronouns that speak the lived-experience of less than half of the population -- if we continue to rely on only one pronoun that comes with the baggage of our crazy gender-driven culture.
So for now, I declare: She is good all the time, all the time, She is good.
Note: You can find Joseph Graves on Twitter at @josephdavidgrav and at his blog: josephdavidgraves.com