Since I tend to have Radio One on in the car, there’s no escape from hearing the odd tune I wouldn’t normally listen to. Ariana Grande’s latest offering comes with the title “God is a Woman” and repeats the phrase, “You believe God is a woman”.
Of course, Ariana is not trying to make a theological statement, nor trying to correct another person’s errant theology. My hunch is that the person addressed in the song has put the female object of their affections on a pedestal to the extent that they are godlike.
Pop songs aside though, is God a woman? Or can we speak of God using female pronouns, referring to God as she?
There’s a certain Bishop in the Anglican Church, Rachel Treweek, who has campaigned for this for a few years and in her own practice uses the female pronouns for God. Another article has been published in the Telegraph about her appeals just a couple of days ago.
First thing we’ve got to say on this is that God is not a gendered being as we are, because God is not a physical being. God doesn’t have the physical attributes of gender, nor the chromosomal make-up. As Spirit, God is not physically and biologically gendered.
In fact, in terms of God’s characteristics, though God displays many typically masculine attributes, God also displays many typically female attributes. God is even referred to as mothering on some occasions (For example, Isaiah 49:15 & 66:13).
If God is neither male or female in that sense then, should we just use neutral pronouns and call God, “it”? Well, that would be inappropriate on a different level. To refer to a person as “it” depersonalises them and is belittling, turning them into an inanimate object rather than a person. You and I could well take offence at being called “it”. As such, it is even less appropriate for the greatest being in the universe who is a person — God
If “it” is out of the question, can we therefore pick and choose whether we refer to God as male or female? I don’t think we can. And that’s all because of the nature of God and of revelation.
Because God is so much greater than we are on every level, we cannot figure God out on our own. We must rely on God’s self-revelation in order to grasp who God is. For us to decide we know what God is like reduces God to less than God. But if God is greater and therefore needs to be revealed to us, then God remains lifted high as God should be and we remain humble in our pursuit of God.
How then has God revealed himself in the Bible? With masculine pronouns. God is always “he” in the Bible, not “she”. God is revealed as heavenly “Father”. God is never referred to as our heavenly “Mother”. What’s more, the eternal Son is revealed as a masculine Son, and when incarnated in human form, Jesus came with masculine biology. Even the Holy Spirit is referred to as “He”.
Those occasions when God is described as mothering, they are to draw out the depths of compassion and care and other roles that are more typically associated with mothering. Perhaps it’s similar to how I, as a male parent, might occasionally do things my wife is more inclined to as the female parent. But doing so does not make me any less male.
So, referring to God as “she” is wrong on several levels. It’s wrong because it elevates ourselves making us think we’re able to make up our own understanding of who God is as we please, which then reduces God. But even worse, it’s reversing and therefore abusing God’s revealed pronoun (not just his preferred pronoun but his actual pronoun). To do so is belittling and degrading to God. I think the third command might have something to say about that.