by Steve C. Singleton
(First published in Gospel Advocate 120, 10 [March 9, 1978]: 145, 154. Reprinted here with minor changes.)
The Call to Abolish ‘God the Father’
The outcry of Women’s Liberation is great against religion in general and against Christianity in particular. The quote “libbers” point an accusing finger at religion for preserving sexism down through the centuries. They see male-made deities offering privileges to men and keeping the women in the chains of subjection.
Some feminists are more radical than others. The radicals, like Dr. Mary Daly, see no hope for Christianity and advocate its abolition. Dr. Daley wrote an essay entitled, “Theology After the Demise of God the Father: A Call for the Castration of Sexist Religion” (3-19 in J. Plaskow and J. A. Romero, eds., Women and Religion [Decatur, Ga: Scholars, 1974]). In it, Dr. Daley states that it is useless to try to reform Christianity because it is too corrupt, too far gone.
With reference to Christ, she argues,” the idea of a unique male Savior may be seen as just one more legitimation of male superiority.” She sees the Christ image as male, and therefore she calls his worship “Christolatry,” and advocates rejecting Christ and beginning to worship a God lacking a male image.
Less radical feminists believe that we should not give up Christianity completely, but that we should stop calling God “He” and “Him” and try to use some words which will represent all mankind. In the words of Meg Greenfield, in Newsweek’s editorial called, “Women and the Image of God” (9/1/1975), “They are asking the faithful, in a particular way, to alter their whole image of God.”
Does the Bible discriminate against women in its presentation of the divine?
The “Maleness” of the Divine
Male terms and male metaphors are applied to God, Christ, and the Spirit throughout the Bible. The names for God—Yahweh, Elohim, Shaddai, Sebbaoth, Adonai, Kyrios, and Theos—or all masculine gender. Likewise, male metaphors are applied to God. Abraham called Him “the Judge of all the earth” (Genesis 18:25). The Psalmist cried, “the Lord is King forever and ever” (Psalm 10:16). Nehemiah represented God as a warrior when he said, “Our God will fight for us” (Nehemiah 4:20). Jeremiah portray God as he spurned husband (Jeremiah 3:1-2). Jesus, in several parables, likens God to a loving father (e.g., Luke 15:11-32).
The names for Jesus, Iēsous and Christos, or masculine, and Jesus is presented in such male roles as Shepherd (Matthew 25:32; John 10:11-18), prophet (Luke 13:33), priest (Matthew 26:28; Hebrews 7:24-28), bridegroom (Matthew 22:1-14), and especially, son (Mark 1:11; John 3:16; Heb. 1:2-3).
Thus, it is quite clear that the feminists are right when they say that the divine is presented as male in the Scriptures. And this presentation is significant. As C. S. Lewis has said:
God himself has taught us how to speak to 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, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable. (God in the Dock , 237)
We must recognize that these things are established:
- God is referred to hundreds of times with masculine names and with masculine pronouns such as ‘he,’ ‘him,’ and ‘his.’
- God is never given a similar name, or referred to the feminine pronouns such as ‘she,’ ‘her,’ or ‘hers.’
- This does not mean that God is male. The masculine pronouns have always had the second, generic sense, referring to both male and female, just as ‘Man’ has been used for centuries to refer to both men and women. Feminists are now trying to go to ridiculous lengths to do away with all the generic meaning of these words.
But, to be fair, we should also note the other side.
The “Femaleness” of the Divine
God is portrayed with female images in some passages. In Isaiah 42:14, God says, “I will cry out like a woman in labor, I will gasp and pant.” In Isaiah 46:3, “hearken to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb.” God asks in Isaiah 49:15, “can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her room? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” The Psalmist sees the “female” attribute of God when he says, “I have called and quieted my soul, like a child quieted and its mother’s breast” (Psalm 131:2). Jesus portrays God as a woman sleeping her house, looking for a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10).
In at least one passage, Matthew 23:37, Jesus uses a female figure in referring to himself: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”
Jesus presents the Holy Spirit as a mother from whom all who would be children of God must be born (John 3:3, 5).
“I am that I am”
So we can answer the question, “Is God Female?” with a definite “No!” But neither is He male. Just as there will be no marrying and giving in marriage in heaven, there is no gender with God. Both maleness and femaleness are a part of His nature, since God created humankind, male and female, in his image (Genesis 1:27). Both genders reflect His glory and eternal attributes. Both mirror in their lives the divine actions and attitudes.
God is not male or female. God is God. Do you hear the question which God gave to Moses on the mountain, when Moses asked, “Who are you?” God said, “I and that I am!”
We should not try to make God in our image, whether male or female. We should not give Him a gender any more than we should try to give His skin a particular color, or select His clothes from those worn by a particular class, or make His eyes slanted or unslanted. We should let God be God. Only then will we allow Him to do what he can and must do for us – save us from Satan, sin, and ourselves.