The beautiful, terrible thing about sacrilege is that it is often so, so close to the truth. Ariana Grande’s “God is a Woman” works this way. While rightly recognizing female sexuality as a gift, the song also elevates it to an undeserving plane. “God is a Woman” demonstrates how both objectification and worship of the female body can be perilous.
In the song’s music video, Grande is more than a mere goddess. She is God, surrounded by imagery that is at once celestial, religious, and sensual. She swings the universe around her hips and reclines nude in a pool of watercolor paint shaped suggestively like female genitalia. She stands in a temple, in the light of a candle, in an all-female depiction of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam, her prone body replacing the deity whose fingers reach to touch a barely covered Eve. There is even a significant bridge in her song that paraphrases Ezekiel, declaring that she will exact vengeance on her enemies. She is formidable and powerfully sexy.
There is a great deal of beauty in the video, and Grande’s unmatchable voice pairs perfectly with the empowering message of her song. It is easy for me to become entranced when listening. I, too, want to feel that strength and awe that comes with being a worshiped woman. Grande presents this in deified terms: when she is finished having sex with her partner, “you'll believe God is a woman.”
Certainly God has traits that are considered to be traditionally feminine: he is compassionate, gracious, nurturing. This is not what the song seems to mean, however. Instead, “God is a Woman” argues for the deification of female sexuality. Yet when a woman’s body and sexual performance become the endgame, the ultimate manifestation of strength and power, the consequences are twofold.
Firstly, what pride it takes to raise oneself to godship! Grande seems to be suggesting that feminine power, which is intrinsically tied to our libido and allure, can makes us godlike. This is what Satan argued when he tempted Eve in the garden. Yet as Christians, we are called not to be like God but to practice the humility of Christ, “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage.”
“God is a Woman” argues for the deification of female sexuality.
Secondly, it’s worth considering the unintended consequences of deifying female sexuality. If we women make ourselves things to be worshiped—little more than religious icons—do we open ourselves to another form of objectification? By elevating herself based solely on her sexuality, is Grande mistakenly suggesting that this is the most powerful and significant part of her humanity?
Women (and men) are inherently sexual beings. But defining either by their sexuality—whether that is in a puritanical sense or a deifying one—misses the mark. Just as purity culture places too much emphasis on shame, songs like “God is a Woman” give sexuality too much power. If both the Church and the world believe that a women’s value is only tied to our bodies, our sexuality, then we also lose a fuller sense of our selfhood, of our dignity. A balanced view of our sexuality, an understanding of it as a gift from God that can nonetheless be distorted, is paramount.
William Struthers, a professor of psychology at Wheaton College, offered this way of thinking about sexuality from a Christian perspective: “But the goal … is not to keep ourselves immune to all things of sexuality… How then do we honor other people when it comes to sexuality? It begins with seeing them beyond this one level of arousal… We need to redevelop a theology of beauty that works beyond the way we commonly think of sexuality… How then do we make wise choices towards a greater sense of holiness and acknowledging the imago dei in others? It comes back to rightly reading Scripture … and surrounding ourselves with those who will help us better understand how to view others through God’s eyes.”
Ultimately, sexuality is an inherent part of humanness, of personhood. When wielded correctly, graciously, and judiciously, it is a gift. When sexuality is abused, either by oneself or by others, it is reduced to something that can both falsely elevate and sorely demean. “God is a Woman” gives us an opportunity to clarify a Christian sexual ethic, one that is neither puritanical nor idolatrous, but rather reflective of the image of God.