For a long time I was uncomfortable when Christians referred to God as She instead of He. In part it was because it was completely unfamiliar to me. Though my parents have been gradually moving away from their very conservative Christian roots that had led them to Bob Jones University – where they met, I still grew up with a pretty conservative, American Christianity. Therefore, God was exclusively male. Even as my knowledge and understanding of God expanded, I still resisted referring to God as She. It was no longer because I felt God was male, but that I didn’t like the motive I perceived in the switch.
The women I knew who weren’t comfortable thinking of God in terms of Father or referring to God as He weren’t comfortable with men to begin with. They had been raped or abused or neglected by the men in their lives who should have loved them and protected them. Thinking of God as He felt threatening: How could a masculine God be anything but malevolent? While I understood their urge to retreat to a more reassuring pronoun, I felt (and still feel) that there is a value to wrestling with God as He and allowing His goodness to redeem men and redefine what it means to be a good, strong man.
Even so, I have become more and more convinced that it is detrimental, as well as inaccurate and un-theological (well, it’s bad theology at least), to view God as exclusively He. This evening I’m not going to address why it is detrimental, right now I’d like to address why it is inaccurate and bad theology. I know that recently John Piper argued that “God has given Christianity a masculine feel.” That simple statement is true. But God has also given Christianity a feminine feel.
Just as God is revealed as Father, he is also revealed as Mother. For example, in Isaiah 46:3, God says, “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from My womb.” God is also referred to in the terms of motherhood in Numbers 11:12, Job 38:8, 29, Isaiah 42:14, Isaiah 49:14, Isaiah 66:12, Hosea 11:4, Acts 17:28. John Calvin, writing long before the feminist movement, commented on Isaiah 46:3, “God has manifested himself to be both Father and Mother so that we might be more aware of God’s constant presence and willingness to assist us” (Volume VIII, Isaiah 33-66, page 436).
In reference to Isaiah 49:15, (in which God says to His people: “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!” ) Calvin wrote, “God did not satisfy himself with proposing the example of a father, but in order to express his very strong affection, he chose to liken himself to a mother, and calls His people not merely children, but the fruit of the womb, towards which there is usually a warmer affection.”
There are numerous other feminine attributes and pronouns that are used in reference to God throughout the Bible and I would encourage you to seek some of them out for yourself. We also can know that our God is appropriately referred to as She/He, He/She because both men and women were created in Her/His, His/Her image. In Genesis 1, male and female are created together and equally share in the image of God: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In the original Hebrew, the word interpreted as man and the word interpreted as him were gender inclusive meaning they referred to male and female. One of the challenges of conveying this in English is that our language does not have a word that means both male and female (besides “it” which isn’t at all appropriate for human beings).
Understanding that God is He/She, should not be a blow to men or women instead it should deepen our knowledge of ourselves, each other and God. Our Mother-Father God is our protector and comforter. He sends us into exile to teach us to love mercy and justice, and she draws us back to so that we might rest in her love. He teaches us fidelity, and she teaches us wisdom. Through our relationship with our Father-Mother God we see how united we all are through our common bond of humanity. So that truly,
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile,
neither slave nor free,
nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
– Galatians 3:28