Dr. Nathan T. Morton
Is HE or SHE God?
Recently I have been posting #controversymonday comments on social media. This past Monday’s comment was: To call God “she” is to deny HIM HIS preferred pronoun. HE gave HIS only son. I posted this to highlight the inconsistency of people who are advocating for society to use people’s preferred pronouns while also pushing the issue of calling God “she” instead of “he.” The post took on a life of its own.
This prompted me to spend some time pondering the issue.
Should we refer to God as “he” or could God just as easily be referred to as “she?” Does it even matter in the grand scheme?
Male and female genders are not social constructs. When archeologists dig up human remains, based upon objective scientific evidence, those remains are empirically categorized as either male or female. In contrast, these new emerging gender identifications in current vogue are social constructs having been fabricated within the context of the dominant culture. Unlike male and female these gender constructs do not exist within objective reality—they are entirely subjective rooted in the individual’s unique consciousness.
The Bible was not given to us to support social norms, otherwise it would only be as good or bad as the current norm. The Bible stands outside of the culture beckoning us to forsake the world and follow Jesus. As disciples we have been called to embrace and live this revolutionary Christlife even though it is adversarial in nature to popular movements often seen in the dominant culture. This doesn’t usually play well with the “rah, rah, rah, look at my banner and my cause” crowd. Hence the impulse of the crowd to deconstruct the faith and reinterpret the text.
God has revealed Himself through scripture and that unique revelation is the way He intends for us to know Him, understand Him, and relate to Him. To ignore or attempt to circumvent God’s way in favor of our own is idolatry. It is the intentional act of fashioning of a god for ourselves like unto ourselves—hence, a creaturely god.
It needs to be stated that what the Bible says and the way it says it is not inconsequential. I propose that the way God refers to Himself and how the biblical writers refer to God matters greatly and should not be avoided or marginalized. Consider these verses.
"God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent ...” (Num. 23:19)
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (Jn. 1:18)
"God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth." (Jn. 4:24)
Philip said to Him, "Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us." Jesus said to him, "Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father...” (Jn. 14:8-9)
And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. (Heb. 1:3)
These few verses give us clarity regarding God.
1) God our Father is not flesh and blood, He is spirit. This article is not about whether God is a human male, we know He isn’t. This article is about answering the question of how we should address and think of God.
2) Jesus, God’s son, became a flesh and blood human male in every way.
3) Jesus has ascended back into heaven and is now seated at the right hand of God interceding for us.
4) Jesus is the exact representation of the Father (the Word made flesh) and to see Him is to see God.
5) Jesus is fully (truly) man and fully (truly) God. This same God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, who returned to heaven two thousand years ago, will someday return in the same manner.
What intrigues me is why this is even an issue at all. What is the source of this impulse to refer to God as “mother” or “she” instead of following the clear pattern of scripture.
Is it because we prefer to not believe what has been revealed? Is it because God's way makes us uncomfortable? Aaron Potek writes, “To speak of God as “He” misrepresents what I believe.” So, should everyone stop what they are doing and cease all faith practices until we can align ourselves with what Aaron believes? Yes, I know I’m being sarcastic, but you get the point. We are the receivers of truth, not the authors.
Paul Smith writes “The abortion of the feminine from our language about God is the foundation of the war against women within the church.”[i] He is implying that at some point in time there was a concerted successful effort to remove the feminine references to God that once existed from our faith tradition. (#conspiracytheory) I took the above quote from AIida BesanCon Spencer’s article “Does God Have Gender” . In the article no evidence was cited to support this claim. Present absence does not imply former existence.
The Rev. Dr. Phillip Carl writes “the only reason we think of her as a him is because, in antiquity, males were thought to be superior and, since God is superior, God must be male.” He actually wrote those words, “The only reason ...!” He says he believe there is absolutely no other reason under heaven of why someone would ever refer to God as “He” or “Father?” –no other reason.
I love my mother, and nothing is lost in our relationship by me not calling her “father” or “he.” I also love my father and he is not offended that I do not refer to him “mother” or “she.” I know I’m being absurd, but this seems to be the level of the conversation around the topic.
In considering this issue I have read writers who intentionally and aggressively worked to move away from and obscure God’s revelation of Himself. Biblical texts were wrestled from their context and then misapplied without logic or apology--and no one in their echo chamber called them on it. In other cases, the Bible was viewed as a flawed editable document to be molded to suit the agenda at hand while the biblical writers were impugned as monsters of oppression.
To suggest that the biblical writers were sexist or misogynistic simply because of their usage of gender specific pronouns in addressing God is disingenuous. It ignores the role of the Holy Spirit in the delivery and preservation of the text. It overlooks the reality of how God the Father and the Son of God refer to themselves. Furthermore, the idea that we puny humans must now right the biblical ship and engage in the task of improving upon God’s Word is sheer arrogance.
Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. The real question is why are we attempting to make it out to be something else? What are we trying to achieve? What is the end game?
I appeal to Occam’s razor. The simplest explanation is usually the correct one. The abundance of male pronouns and absence of female metaphors for God in the Bible is simply because this is how God has chosen to reveal himself to humanity. It does not imply greater worth for me because I am a male or lesser worth for Heather because she is female. This is not about us; this is about God. Do we trust God with how He has revealed Himself? If not, then there are other issues that must be dealt with.
There are only 7[ii] instances in the Bible where I can find God comparing His attributes to those of a female. In every instance those comparisons are similes. Which means that when Jesus said, “as a mother hen gathers her chicks” he wasn’t implying that he was either a hen or a mother, simply comparing himself to something of a different kind as a way of being emphatic.
Some of the clearest designations of God come to us in the most unbelievably intimate moments. When the disciples petitioned Jesus, “Lord teach us to pray” He began, “When you pray say: Father, hallowed be Your name.” In the garden of Gethsemane on that night before His betrayal Jesus agonizing in prayer said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son, that the Son my glorify you.” Jesus went on to refer to God as Father at least five more times in the prayer. On the day of resurrection with Mary hugging Him Jesus said, “Stop clinging to Me for I have not yet ascended to the Father...” He went on tell Mary, “Go to my brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father ... .”
God has clearly revealed Himself as the heavenly Father—the divine He.
Embracing God as being who He has chosen to reveal Himself to us to be is both an act of faith and trust—it is an act of obedience to the very teachings, example, and commands of Christ. This is a clear fact that you don't have to squint in order to see. Rather than complicate and confuse what has been clear and affirmed by believers for over two thousand year let's just simply come as a little child and believe that God is who He says He is.
[i] Paul R. Smith, Is It Okay to Call God “Mother”?: Considering the Feminine Face of God (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 273, 147. [ii] Hosea 13:8 God compares his jealousy to that of a mother bear. Deuteronomy 32:11-12 God compares the care of a mother eagle to his care for his people. Isaiah 66:13 God says that he will comfort his people the same way a mother comforts her child. Isaiah 49:15 God says just as a mother cannot forget her nursing child; God cannot forget his people. Isaiah 42:14 God says he will cry out like a woman in labor. Matthew 23:37/Luke 13:34 Jesus compares himself to a mother hen.