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Is God Male or Female?

One could possibly rephrase the question like this: “Can the socially-constructed phenomena of gender impose itself on the nature of the Divine Being?” The answer, when the question is posed like this, is obviously not. “My ways [are] higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts,” says the Lord (Isa 55:8-9). Also, God created men and women, not the other way around. The Creator conceived of Adam and Eve long before he started his creative process.

But prior to the world, prior to how our ideas of what male and female are came about, was God a “He” or a “She”?

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

Genesis 1:26-27

So Adam and Eve (and all humanity with them) have the image of God. On this basis they are positioned to have dominion over creation and rule justly. Man has the image of God. Woman has the image of God. Together, they make a suitable pair. 

So it seems to me that there is something about femaleness that reflects the nature of God. And there is something about maleness that equally reflects the nature of God. This can be shown throughout the scriptures. 

God reveals himself in what he does, and in what he is like in adjectives and metaphors of the writing prophets.

All the metaphors for governance are masculine (Judge, King, Warrior, Father). This makes sense because the people to whom God was revealing himself as the governor of the universe were living in a patriarchal society. What sense would revealing himself as a female warrior make to a people who understood the category as exclusively belonging to men, and where women were meant to be protected from war, not participate in it? What does the image of a queen denote to such a people? (clue: not that She is the uncontested ruler of the nations). Most of the metaphors for sustenance (Artist, Healer, Gardener, Shepherd) are paired with “Lord”, which also would have been understood as masculine. The New Testament further strengthens the idea of God as Father (a masculine—and gendered—term). “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name,” (Mat 6:9) for instance, and as Paul often writes, “grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ…“ (Rom 1:7). Also…

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”

Galations 4:4-6

So when in unity with the Spirit, we are able to call God by the most intimate, protective, providing, hero-worshipping, adoration-filled name; the simplest word, the most basic of sounds, that which an infant uses when they see their Father; Abba—the English equivalent is something like “Dadda.” My two year daughter said “Ad’D.” That’s what we’ll say when we’re when we truely know and trust God.

In conclusion, male gendered language when speaking of God is explicit and ubiquitous throughout the scriptures. If we want our language to conform to the Biblical revelation, then we would be justified in conforming to the biblical motif of maleness when speaking about God. 

However, one metaphor used to describe the God who gives sustenance is God as Mother

As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you;

Isaiah 66:13

“Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
    and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
    I will not forget you!
See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are ever before me.

Isaiah 49:15-16

This isn’t greatly emphasised, but the fact it is there can’t be ignored. You might say that this feminine metaphor doesn’t really add anything that isn’t already there in the picture of God as Father, but it is a reassuring or comforting image, and proves useful in providing a response to the charge of sexism. The Bible does not exclusively describe God with male-gendered language. The feminine is there also.

Some might accuse Christian theological language today of conforming to cultural patriarchal norms. I really don’t see how it could be otherwise. God had to accomodate his language in some way in order to communicate at all, and we’ve inherited that tradition. These passages, for what little there is, can be used as a balance to justify the use of feminine pronouns for God. Unfortunately, what is typically meant by such ascriptions (ie. “God Herself”) is a desacralization of the Biblical tradition that comes hand-in-hand with stereotypes of gender that are unbiblical and unflattering to men (ie. that maleness is not nurturing at all, but rough and careless, or that femaleness is more loving and creative than maleness).

All of this however is metaphor and accomodating language to communicate truths about what God is like. What is God by nature? Behind the language that grasps at capturing the essence of the Almighty, what is he; male, female, or neither?

God by nature is an eternal spirit (Jer 10:10, “eternal”; John 4:24, “Spirit.”). He doesn’t have genitalia. He doesn’t have XY chromosomes (or XX for that matter). He doesn’t have any biology. So he doesn’t have a gender. He never had a gender. He invented gender. We shouldn’t think upside-down, and impose our ideas of gender onto God. God imposes his ideas of gender onto us. He created male and female (Gen 1:27). Our categories are not his (Isa 55:8-9). When we see God face to face, our maleness and femaleness will be restored, completed and perfected. And frankly, most likely we’ll have stopped caring about whether God is gendered or not.


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