Make No Image

I've been concerned about the "masculinity" of God. Why does God call "Himself" a "He"? Doesn't it seem that by identifying Godself with the "He" then the "he" is elevated above the "she"? Doesn't it seem that if the divine is masculine, then masculinity is divinized? and femininity is marginalized, made the "other"? A glaring part of the world's brokenness is that it is thoroughly androcentric (1), and a male god seems to be a part of this same damaged and damaging pattern.

So, again, why? Why does God use masculine pronouns? Here's what I'm learning:

>> God's biggest problem: how to fit the bigness of divine reality into the smallness of human understanding, but
>> All's grace.

God as Person

I think God uses a gendered pronoun because God is a Person, and the only persons we know are he or she---no "it." God is very concerned that we know God personally.

And if in Scripture God switched between He and She, wouldn't we idol-makers have taken that as an excuse for polytheism? Or an exploitative sexualized spirituality? 'Cuz we're like that. And that was already the pattern of religiosity in the Ancient Near East, where God gathered a people and instructed them in worship. (2)

I even find that using the language of God/Godself leads me to conceptualize God as just those letters: G - O - D. Less personal, more alphabetic. I would rather know God as a personal He than as an impersonal It, a hazy force, a fog-like power, or even a string of letters.

The Limits & Necessity of Metaphorical Language

Metaphorical language (3) only gets us so far. To employ a metaphor is to say that something IS and IS NOT like the object to which you are comparing it. For instance, to say, "The road was a ribbon of asphalt in the desert" is to say that the road IS LIKE a ribbon in that it is long and thin and somewhat beautiful and gently twists and turns. But in that the road is not an actual ribbon, it IS NOT LIKE a ribbon in that it is not made of fabric, it does not come on a spool, it is not used to adorn textiles. So the road IS LIKE and IS NOT LIKE a ribbon.

Our language is saturated with metaphors; it is native to the way we think. "Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature." (4) 

So our religious language and the inspired language of Scripture itself is woven in the fabric of metaphors. Our God is a consuming fire. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. Christ is the Head of the church. And Adam knew Eve (wink, wink). Hear us, O Shepherd of Israel! May our cries come before You...! Speaking and thinking like this is so natural for us that we often don't even notice that our language is metaphorical at all.

So metaphorical language is necessary. We cannot speak or even think without metaphors. In communicating with us, there is no way that God could have said anything about Godself without using metaphors, likening God to what is not like God. And if we try to speak of God WITHOUT metaphor, we end up with something that's more like an Excel sheet of abstract attributes than a description of a living, acting, feeling, thinking Person. It wouldn't mean as much to me to know that a Supreme List were hearing my prayers.

Make No Image

"You shall have no other gods before me."

"You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them..." (Exodus 20:3-5a) 

Those are excerpts from commandments 1 and 2 of the Ten Commandments. For a long time I thought it was kind of redundant. "Don't worship other gods" and "Don't make idols" sounded like the same thing to me. Now I see it differently. God is not only forbidding the worship of other so-called deities (in commandment 1), but God is also forbidding the making of images of the true God (commandment 2). Remember that whole golden calf incident? They made a calf out of gold and then worshiped it, not calling it Baal or Zeus or Thor, but calling it "your god, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt." The God that sent the plagues and parted the Sea and gathered you here? Behold! Here she is in all her shiny glory! (And they were actually impressed.)

"My idea of God... has to be shattered time after time." CS Lewis,  A Grief Observed

"My idea of God... has to be shattered time after time." CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

God uses metaphors (and similes too) to talk about Godself. God uses metaphor to say that God is a consuming fire---but we aren't to elevate fire as better than wind or grass or clouds, we aren't to worship a flame. God uses metaphor to say that God is a horn---but we aren't to elevate horns as better than teeth or toes, we aren't to worship horns. And yes, God uses metaphor to say that God is He---but we aren't to elevate he as better than she, or (God forbid!) think that God is male.

  • God is not male. God is suprasexual (that is, above gender, greater than and encompassing gender.)
  • God created both male and female to bear God's image and likeness. (Gen 1)
  • Eve is as much in the image of God as is Adam. She is not "other," nor are any of her daughters. 

Oh, the world went dark so quickly! The gates of Paradise were closed and we find ourselves outside of Eden, living in the shattered world of broken relationships and confused thinking. And in this world we live by the code of bias and enemy, of hierarchy and "others," of suspicion and power struggle. So we have gender oppression and real inequalities and a temptation to think that God shares our wicked preferences. 

But the Gospel? The Gospel says, 

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all."

(Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:11)


(1) "Thus androcentricism can be understood as a societal fixation on masculinity whereby all things originate. Under androcentrism, masculinity is normative and all things outside of masculinity are defined as 'other.'" Thank you, Wikipedia.

(2) Polytheism and sexualized worship were common in the nations that surrounded Israel, and unfortunately, as Israel departed from the instruction of God, became part of their worship too. Human beings were thought of as the spawn of divine soap operas, heterosexual and homosexual unions were part of the temple worship, and some rites were meant as human pornography so that the gods would be stimulated to have sex and provide for the earth.

(3)English refresher: A simile is a comparison of two things using "like" or "as." (He stood like a statue. She gathered her dolls like a doting mother.) A metaphor is a comparison that does not use those comparative words, "like" and "as." (She was a whirlwind, packing the house with an almost violent energy. I've been starved for attention lately.)