When asked if more feminine images should be used for God, CS Lewis said: “I shouldn’t believe it strongly, but some sort of case could be made out.”
Christianity has always insisted that masculine language be how believers address God – because that is how God has revealed himself. One argument in defense of such traditional language goes like this: since God chose to reveal himself in the Bible in masculine terms, we aren’t free to alter this language to suit our contemporary, egalitarian tastes.
Can we dismiss the Bible itself as tainted by gender bias? Some say the authors lived in patriarchial times, so that is how they wrote. However, during those times there were a lot of Gods, some societies had God’s for everything, and there were female Gods. People in that day were not biased against calling a God a female, if that’s what they thought she was.
There are texts which deny that God is human and therefore supposedly imply that, being beyond gender in himself, God may be spoken of as either male or female. Second, there are texts which allegedly attribute feminine characteristics or activities to God, thereby making it OK for us to do the same.
Is God not a man?
Should we take descriptions of God as metaphorical (Psalm 17:8 – “hide me in the shadow of your wings”). Does God have wings? If so, then should we treat descriptions of God as ‘he’ so literally? The biblical writers are aware God is not male in the crude, bodily sense; and yet they see him as fundamentally masculine.
In Numbers 23:19 it says “God is not a man that he should speak falsely, nor human that he should change his mind.” And in 1 Samuel 15:29 it says “He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a man, that he should change his mind.” These both say that God is not human, hence not prone to acting contrary to what he has said or changing his mind (as humans do).
So God is not human, and even male. But he is referred to in the masculine in these same scriptures.
Is God a woman because God has feminine characteristics?
In Deuteronomy 32:18 God gives birth: “the God who gave you birth”. Psalm 131:2 says “like a weaned child with its mother” suggesting a maternal image. Isaiah 42:14, 49:15 and 66:13 all have maternal images, with Isaiah 66:13 saying “As a mother comforts her son, so will I comfort you”. They all show feminine characterisitcs, but even in these cases God is not referred to as a ‘she’. Masculine descriptions of ‘him’ and ‘he’ still persist.
Indeed, giving men feminine characteristics is in the Bible: In Numbers 11:12 Moses asks “Did I give them birth?”. In Galatians 4:19 Paul is likened to a mother saying “I am again in the pains of childbirth…”. No one would argue that they are women.
So what is God’s image?
You could say that Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that God is the image of man and woman: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” How can both man and woman be in Gods image if God is a ‘he”?
Firstly, it seems biblical authors were referring here to God’s intellect and will…which we all share. Secondly, common sense says there is no necessary conflict between thinking of God as masculine and holding that both men and women are made in his image. Daughters as well as sons can be “spittin’ images” of their fathers.
So, in summary, God is not a human man. That is clear. (Thank God say all the women of the world!!). But he is clearly referred to as ‘masculine’.
Can we refer to God as non-masculine?
But the bible, as far as I can see (and research) does not really explain why God is referred to as a ‘he’. So any justification of God as a ‘he’ or ‘she’ seems to be done outside of the bible, and can lend to the same cultural bais that some people may say the early bible writers had. Sounds like a self-defeating exercise to me.
I started with CS Lewis so let me end with him. He said: “…Christians think that God himself has taught us how to speak of him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, is merely arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument … against Christianity.”
(note: I am a 5 minute christian, and notes on this page include research from the internet. So I am happy to be persuaded otherwise!)