Culture At Large

Masculine/Feminine

Chris Salzman

ysmarko gives a brief outline of his thinking on the use of masculine and feminine pronouns when referring to God. It's worth your time read about the evolution of his thought process.

Here's where he's at now:
i did some reading, and talked to a bunch of women about how — for some of them — male pronoun use for god, no matter how much we might try to admit that god doesn’t have a human gender like we do, is a struggle for them. i understand that, no matter now much we try, it’s impossible for us to fully separate our understanding of god from our experience in life, and that metaphors and history both speak loudly into our psyches, worship, theology and practice. and while it is much more work to avoid male pronouns — at least for me, as i’ve used them for more than 40 years, and hear them in most of the contexts i live in — i’ve also seen (in writing) and heard (in speaking) people who artfully craft sentences to avoid the awkwardness of structure i previously thought was occasionally necessary (when this is done well, i don’t notice it at all). i’ve put a stake in the ground: i’m trying to excise the use of male pronouns for god when speaking and writing.

the result, so far: it’s a pain. awareness of this has led to a few subsequent awarenesses…

first, i tend to notice every single use of a male pronoun for god. it’s distracting. i wish there were a way to separate my attempt from my listening to others

...

second, i still think the “father” metaphor in scripture is helpful and good. of course, i understand it’s a metaphor (i think there are lots of christians who don’t see it as a metaphor): certainly god the father didn’t give birth to jesus. the father metaphor still works for me. but, while i can cognitively ascent to the mother metaphors being just as valid, they don’t quite work for me in my thinking and worship. i don’t find it easy to meditate — for example — on god as caring, nurturing mother, like i do on the image of god as loving father...part of this is that i’ve lived a life with a humanized father image. and while the images of god in scripture — male and female — include lots of non-human images (rocks, hens, eagles, wind, water, light, bread, lamb), the only scriptural metaphors i have to work with that are decidedly feminine are non-human. there are also a ton of human metaphors for god in scripture (best friend, guide, potter, servant, judge) — which don’t have to be male, i’ve spent a lifetime thinking of them as male. even the feminine “sophia” — the scriptural word for wisdom, often associated with the holy spirit — has all kinds of hurdles for me at an experience level.

finally, i’m choosing to live in this tension. i’m not peppering my prayer, sermons or writing with female metaphors for god. while i can understand the democratic impulse to do this, i think it only complicates the problem...instead, i’ve been working to learn how to change sentences to use the name of god without a gender-specific pronoun. and i’m praying for deeper understanding and revelation from god.

It's important to remember that these sentiments come out of a genuine search for the best way in which to refer to and worship God. For my two cents, confining God to a gender is tricky primarily because of all the denotative qualities we shovel onto pronouns like Him and Her.

Anyone have an opinion on this? Anyone else gone through (or going through a similar thought process?

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith