Before you think about it, stop and describe God.
He’s that old guy dressed in robes with long gray hair and a beard to match, right?
Yep. That’s how I typically picture God as well.
And it makes sense because that is the image we have been presented with in art and word all of our lives. But then, of course this is the way the Bible presents God as well.
The image of God as presented in the Bible can be summarized pretty easily. He is powerful, He is strong, He is a warrior, shows anger, gets revenge, and is jealous of those who belong to Him.
These are all traits that are typically associated with men, would you agree?
But here’s the thing. I don’t believe that God is male at all.
As a matter of fact, I believe God is neither male nor female. God is God and embodies all traits of both genders and traits that cannot be contained by gender. God cannot be described fully in terms of gender because God is so much bigger than a gender let alone a pronoun.
So if God is not male, why is every representation of God male?
I think this is true for a number of reasons.
First, it’s important to remember that the Bible was written by men in a strongly patriarchal society. Did you know that according to an article in DailyMail.com, there are 93 women mentioned in the Bible but these women speak only 1.1% of the time?
Ok. Now I know that our society is different and things have definitely changed since Biblical times, but do you really think its possible that the women of that era talked that little?
Yeah. Neither do I.
What I do think is that it’s highly likely that due to the nature of the society, women’s words were simply considered unimportant.This is, after all, the nature of a patriarchal society – one in which, despite marked advancement, we are still in the midst of.
The problem is that the patriarchal bent of both our society and the Bible creates issues for many people.
First, there are many passages that allude to or state outright that women are lesser than men. Denominations across the globe focus on these passages to keep women from positions of leadership or even from fully participating in worship at all. The infamous and numerous passages from Paul that indicate women should remain silent in church have been quoted to me I cannot count how many times as men justify their superiority not just in the church itself, but in faith, all things spiritual and life overall.
The second issue that arises from this patriarchal bent is that there are many in our society today who outright avoid church and faith because their experience with male figures is so highly negative. Maybe it was an abusive father situation. Maybe the father figure was absent, or maybe the father figure was so distant that no relationship could be established even though the individual sat in the same room as the rest of the family.
Regardless of the situations themselves, it is often difficult for those who had difficult paternal relationships to associate good things with a “father” figure in heaven and come to trust that a male God would have good intentions for them since the example(s) they have fell far from that measure.
As I think about the God-gender thing, I can’t help but side with the representation of God by the author William P. Young in the book The Shack.
While the theology may not be something everyone can agree upon, I do believe the imagery Mr. Young presents is far more accurate than what most people have in their minds today.
As Mr. Young presents, God is who we need Him to be at the time. Gender only matters to us because we are earthly and bound by our limited knowledge of “being”. We must be able to put a structure around the things in our lives so we can perceive them. God doesn’t need that structure which is why He is able to be 3 persons in one while we as humans work hard to figure out how to be the one person we have been created to be
The bottom line is this. The problem that we have with this imagery of God is that we have skewed God’s intention. God’s intention for our society was that it was to be paternal, not patriarchal.
So what’s the difference?
For me, I believe that God created man and woman differently but equally. He gave each gender strengths that the other does not possess. For example, women can bear children while men can…umm…oh! Pee standing up! I’m sure there are other examples but I just can’t think of another one at the moment.
At any rate, the difference is that God intended for men and women to work along side each other to nurture and support each other. In our human limitation, we shifted God’s paternity to patriarchy skewing God’s intention from one of love and protection to one of domination. In God’s perfection, He is paternal: loving, generous, protective and strong. It is perfect because God is perfect.
As a society of faith, we need to move away from the messages of patriarchy to messages of paternity; from messages of control to messages of love.
Do you agree? What are your thoughts about patriarchy vs. paternity? Have you struggled to associate a loving God with a male figure and, if so, how do you overcome that problem – or have you?
I would love to hear your thoughts.