Lent 2023, Day 24: Pronouns.

I wrote about how depicting Jesus as White has fed into a system of racial discrimination, hatred, and even violence, and tonight I want to share this post by Annie Selak at Religion News Service on how God is described- he, she, they- matters:

The Church of England is considering what language and pronouns should be used to refer to God.

The church’s General Synod has, however, clarified that it will not abolish or substantially revise any of the currently authorized liturgies. Nonetheless, this news made headlines and brought up questions of how religions refer to God. Is God male? What pronouns should be used to refer to God?

As a Catholic feminist theologian who runs a women’s center at a Catholic university, I understand the impact of the pronouns Christians use for God. Historically, Christian tradition has recognized many pronouns for God, including “he/him,” “she/her” and “they/them.” This is partly because God does not have a gender. Despite the diverse images used for God in Scripture and Christian tradition, male language and images predominate in contemporary Christian worship.

Many images for God

When we speak about God, we do so knowing that what we say is incomplete. All images for God reveal something about God. No image of God is literal or reveals everything about God.

For example, while Christians can refer to God as a king, they must also remember that God is not literally a king. Calling God a king expresses that God is powerful. However, it is not expressing factual accuracy about God’s gender or implying that God is human.

Referring to God with many titles, descriptions and images invites many of us to recognize the mystery of God. God is like all of these things but also more than all of these things.

Thomas Aquinas, an influential 13th-century Catholic theologian, asserted that individuals can talk about God in ways that are true but always inadequate. Aquinas explained that our language about God affirms something about God, yet God is always beyond that which we can express. We express truths about God in human terms and constructs, but since God is mystery, God is always beyond these categories.

Christ the Mother Hen by Kelly Latimore

Scripture is filled with multiple images of God. In some of these images, God is depicted as a father or male. Jesus teaching his disciples to pray the “Our Father” prayer is perhaps the most well-known example of a male title for God.

In other parts of Scripture, God is female. The prophet Isaiah compares God to a nursing mother in the Book of Isaiah. A mother hen gathering her chicks is an analogy for God in the Gospel of Matthew. The Book of Wisdom, a book in the Catholic Bible, depicts wisdom personified as a woman. Wisdom 10:18-19 states: “She took them across the Red Sea and brought them through deep waters. Their enemies she overwhelmed.” This account presents God as female, leading Moses and the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.

Depicting God as female in Scripture speaks to God’s tenderness as well as strength and power. For example, the prophet Hosea compares God with a bear robbed of her cubs, promising to “attack and rip open” those who break the covenant.

Elsewhere in Scripture, God has no gender. God appears to Moses in the burning bush in Exodus 3, defying all gender categories. The Book of 1 Kings presents a gentle image of a gender-neutral God. God asked the prophet Elijah to go to a mountain. While there, Elijah experienced a strong wind, an earthquake and fire, but God was not present in those. Instead, God was present in a gentle whisper. The creation stories of Genesis refer to God in the plural. These examples emphasize that God has no gender and is beyond any human categories.

Read the rest here.

  • Ask yourself: how do I picture God in my mind’s eye? In my heart? Can I picture God as she? He? Or truly genderless? Do I need God to have a gender? Why or why not? Does this topic elicit discomfort? Distress? Anger? Hope? Satisfaction? Curiosity? How does my view of God impact my view of others? Or does it?

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