Written by Nate Wieland and Media by Kristyn Ewing
God our Heavenly Father. He is good. The world is His. We love Him.
Do you notice a theme in how we describe God? Our words paint Him as a male. See? I did it just now. It’s such an accepted part of our faith that we don’t think twice about it. Jesus loves me, I’m free from my sin, God is a He, He must be a Him. Where did we get this idea, though? Obviously, we see throughout ALL of scripture that God is referred to as Father and the pronouns reflect His masculinity. But, why? We see God as masculine because those are the words used to describe Him in the Bible. So, maybe we should analyze the writers of scripture.
First and foremost, we must take into account that the biblical author’s culture of that time was patriarchal, which is a society controlled by men. It’s a sad reality, but the early Israelites were not respectful of women. Women were seen as property in the Old Testament and occasionally in the New Testament as well. For example, think about the story in Genesis 19 when the angels visited Lot in Sodom:
The wicked people of Sodom gathered around Lot’s house and demanded that Lot should turn over his visitors so they could rape them. Instead, Lot gives his daughters up to the crowd. Another example is the laws on rape in the Old Testament. If a woman was raped within earshot of a man it was her fault because “she could have cried out for help.” Even marriage was a skewed system. If a man forcefully came into a woman, she became his wife!
Obviously, these atrocities are far from the will of God. However, Israel was a male-dominated society and there are many accounts of this wickedness littered throughout the Bible. The background that writers of scripture were immersed in was one that recognized the humanity of men more fully than women. For them, it made sense to attribute the good qualities of God as “manly” qualities.
If we recognize that both man and woman are imago dei’s, made in the image of God, then maybe this God we serve isn’t merely a male God. God might encompass both genders or He could be neither! We must be careful about how we attribute God’s qualities as male or female. After all, who are we to say that God’s gentleness is a feminine quality or that His wrath is a male one? This idea that certain qualities are geared towards men or women is a construct of man.
We are the ones who decided that men should be macho, loud, dominant, and assertive, not God.
We are the ones who decided women should be quiet, agreeable, and passive, not God.
The characteristics of God are not engendered. If we see a man displaying gentle love, that’s not a womanly thing to do, it’s a Godly thing to do. If we see a woman actively leading a group of people, that’s not a manly quality, it’s a Godly quality. To be an image-bearer is to align our actions with the actions of God, not men and women as society has created them.
So, what should be our response? If our words for God are largely influenced by a patriarchal society, what should we do about it? I can’t claim to have the answers to this but I think we should get comfortable with God being known as our Heavenly Father/Heavenly Mother or that God is neither male nor female. Either God is both, or God is neither, but God can’t be just a man. That does a great disservice to the women of the Body of Christ who seek to claim the title imago dei as well.
What do you think?