Yesterday I put out an article about the Holy Trinity which caused a little bit of a stir. You can read it HERE. The reason it upset some people was not actually the theology I was putting forward but rather the fact that I used female pronouns for God. For a couple years I have been switching out he for she in reference to God so I thought it might make sense to explain why I do so. It’s not just to be edgy and woke, but rather I believe there are good theological reasons and I would like to share them with you in case you find them helpful.
Firstly, let me say that I do not reject the idea of God as father in any way. Traditional masculine imagery for God is perfectly legitimate. Certainly the Christian tradition has used that kind of language since the beginning and there is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to do so moving forward either. However, I do believe that there are a few things that should be pointed out and kept in mind no matter what pronouns we assign to God.
For most of Western history, male pronouns have been considered universal while female ones have been considered gendered. When anyone before the 60s used the term man, they meant all of humanity including women. In a certain sense, male language was the closest thing we had to gender neutral. Many people don’t realise this, but the church fathers often spoke about gender in terms which people today would find surprising. They saw the division of humanity into male and female as an unfortunate consequence of the fall. True humanity was seen as transcending gender and many believed that at the resurrection there would be no more gender at all.
To demonstrate this I would like to share with you a quote from Gregory of Nyssa. Gregory was one of the Cappadocian Fathers which means that he is as orthodox as orthodox gets. He believed that mother was just as good a metaphor for God as father. Here’s what he said about it:
“No one can adequately grasp the terms pertaining to God. For example, ‘mother’ is mentioned in place of ‘father’. Both terms mean the same, because the divine is neither male nor female (for how could such a thing be contemplated in the divinity, when it does not remain intact permanently for us human beings either? But when all shall become one in Christ, we will be divested of the signs of this distinction together with the whole of the old man). Therefore, every name found [in Scripture] is equally able to indicate the ineffable nature, since the meaning of the undefiled nature is contaminated by neither female nor male.”
While I do not personally think of gender as any kind of contamination in the human condition, Gregory hits the nail on the head when he points out that God transcends gender altogether. We can call God father so long as we realise that God is not a literal father. The bible uses many different metaphors for God and they are all true so long as we remember that they are metaphors. When the psalmist says that God is “my rock and my redeemer” we do not think that God is a literal rock. We understand that it is a metaphor meaning that God is strong and unshakable. So why do we think that God is a literal father? If God was our heavenly father in the literal sense then we would also need to have a heavenly mother, because that’s how it works.
While male imagery is certainly used for God in the majority of the Bible, there is also female imagery, particularly that of a mother. Here is a list of scripture verses you can look up to see what I mean:
However, while these texts undoubtedly show a precedent for mother imagery, I think that the most important text which speaks about this truth is Genesis 1 when God creates humanity in his own image and likeness. The text reads “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
The text does not say that only the male was created in the image of God but explicitly names both genders. If both male and female are the image of God then why would female imagery not be appropriate to describe God? If God has created human beings in her image then we are all fit metaphors for God. God created humankind in his image, mother and father he created them, and therefore mother and father are both equally ordained by God as images we can use.
So long as we use male only imagery for God and condemn those who do otherwise we will perpetrate a false theology. Many people believe that God is a man – which is complete nonsense. It limits God and makes her into a political tool which maintains the status quo of patriarchy, undoubtedly that is why Gregory of Nyssa’s insights fell onto deaf ears. Only now, thousands of years later, are we beginning to shake off the chains of sexism which have bound women and God alike. Because male pronouns are no longer considered gender neutral in our society, if we do not change our male-only pronouns for God we will perpetuate the false doctrine that God is a man (presumably with a penis and everything? Not really sure what people mean when they say God is a man lol).
Because our culture has refused to give women their place as an equal part of God’s image, I choose to use female pronouns in my own writing, knowing that the equally important male imagery is already covered. We need to use both and so long as referring to God in the feminine is considered heresy I will continue to do it. I pray that one day we will be able to use father or mother to describe God without turning any heads at all.
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