He or She: pronoun arguments aside, surely the point is that the masculine and feminine are both equally part of the nature and character of God?
Last week I put the spade among the pigeons, sort of, referring to the Holy Spirit as a her.
I love receiving correspondence from readers and I received two letters: one from a woman who felt insulted and another from a woman who felt empowered by my use of the feminine pronoun. I was pretty excited because it means I have (finally had) at least two readers, although maybe only one now.
Therefore, as tomorrow is Trinity Sunday – the Sunday when we celebrate God as three in one; Father, Son and Holy Spirit – I will present my arguments for affirming the femininity of God. If you’re likely to be offended, read on!
I would like to start with an observation and it is this: that God, over time, has revealed himself to humanity. Now, before we dwell on the pronouns, yes, I just used “themselves” to refer to God. Let me remind you of the words used by God in Genesis chapter 1 verse 26 where God said, “Let us make humans in our image, after our likeness. We can already see that somehow this unique God is also a community! But I’m moving forward.
The first point I want to make is that God has revealed himself to humans – specifically choosing a community of people to be representatives in the world. The Bible is made up of the writings of this community – a collection of poetry, letters, history, stories, songs, legal documents and more, spanning centuries. By reading and studying the Bible, we can see how this community gets a revelation of who God is, which changes and grows over time as God reveals more and more of their character. And, likewise, as God is still revealing himself to us, then it is perfectly acceptable (and humble) to suggest that we do not yet have the full and complete revelation of God: that there are aspects of character and the nature of God which remain mysterious and unknown to us. And that begs the question, what is God revealing to the world today? And how does our understanding of God develop? I will come back to that later.
The second point I would like to make is very simple, and that is that God is neither male nor female. Let’s go back to Genesis chapter 1 verse 27 where it is written: “So God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Ah! I hear you cry. It is said “he” created. Well, actually, you could say that in Hebrew the word is just “created” and there is no “he”. A more accurate translation would be: “So God created humans in the image of himself, in the image of God created them; male and female created them. It doesn’t scan as well. But pronoun arguments aside, surely the point is that the masculine and feminine are both equally part of the nature and character of God?
So what does it mean for us when we think of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if God is neither male nor female? Well, we have to get it into our heads that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, although perhaps in a patriarchal pronoun or in physical form, may very well be masculine, they have the qualities of both masculine and feminine. Think about Jesus for a moment. His physical appearance was that of a man, yet Jesus existed before the creation of the world, before there were men or women; both wholly and in part of the communal God. And think about the words and actions of Jesus. He wore many (if not all) of what we might consider stereotypical feminine traits. He used expressions such as “desire to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings”. He let his beloved disciple lie down and rest against his chest. He was compassionate, nurturing, sensitive, supportive, gentle, warm, modest, humble, affectionate, expressive, tender, emotional, kind, devoted and understanding.
We live in revealing times, don’t we? We are beginning to appreciate and better understand gender and transgender. There are definitely women in male bodies and men in female bodies, and everything in between, so the male and female boxes don’t cover how people identify or understand each other. And as a Christian who has an understanding and an understanding of both the masculinity and the femininity of God, that makes perfect sense to me. And that brings me to my last point.
The Holy Spirit (Pneuma) in the Greek New Testament has no gender-specific pronoun but is sometimes called “he”, especially when using other names, e.g., “helper” (Paraclete) which is masculine. And in the Hebrew Old Testament, the Holy Spirit (Ruach) has a feminine pronoun. Therefore, I use feminine pronouns for Spirit and for God, whenever context sensitive, to remind us that God is neither male nor female, but has the image characteristics of of them. It asserts that all, regardless of gender, are created in the image of God, especially in a patriarchal and often, unfortunately, male-dominated society.
This feminine aspect of God is explored and revealed in various places in the biblical texts. Coincidentally, one of the texts scheduled for tomorrow, Trinity Sunday, is Proverbs chapter 8 where wisdom is personified by a woman and parallels with the person of the Holy Spirit in the book of Genesis and the description of Jesus found in John chapter 1 are profound. It makes for a deep and wonderful read; so deep in fact that you have to read it, reread it and ponder it – to allow it to invade you, to inspire you and to speak to you. Tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. we will hear it read by four women in St. Mark’s Church and, if you wish, you are welcome.
Finally, whether you are male, female, a mixture of the two, or fit no label or box, may you know the love, acceptance, blessing and peace of God’s Holy Trinity – now and forever. Amen.
Until next time. Heaps of peace.
• Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor of St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm