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God’s gender

Responding to a reader's feedback: Is God male or female?

God’s gender

Evelyn Heida, from Barrie, Ont., writes:

As a former teacher, the topic of reading “15 minutes per day” in Robert Bruinsma’s column caught my attention (Oct. 24). After the first few sentences I stopped to see if there was a misprint. But then I realized that the author meant it like that: “It seems that God agrees, seeing how she has chosen written language as a primary way of revealing herself.”

I was stunned and shocked! “she”? “herself”? Ever since the creation God has revealed himself as “he,” “himself” and “Father.” And God has not changed!

All around us we see the consequences of the rudderlessness in society, of not living by God’s Word and will. Is the fear of being so-called “politically correct” and “open-minded” catching up to us, for us to fall in step with these views? The world needs to see and hear a strong stand and witness of who God is, and how he wants us to live.

We have been subscribers to CC for many years in part to support the Christian voice in media. We don’t always fully agree with every article, but do agree with the endeavour of the Mission Statement (p. 4). If we let our guards down, how can our witness remain strong and vibrant, as well as being recognized to be different than the world’s opinions? Our prayer is that CC will continue to publish a variety of articles that give a strong testimony about “our Father’s world.” Mr. Bruinsma’s article about the importance of reading to and with our kids (and grandkids) I enjoyed and can fully support.

Bob Bruinsma responds: 

Is God male or female? A few columns ago, I used the feminine pronoun “she” in referring to God. Several people have contacted the Editor wondering whether that was a misprint and, in other cases, expressed disappointment and even shock about such usage. I’ll go on record as saying that it wasn’t a misprint. It’s too bad that English doesn’t have a gender neutral personal pronoun for God, whom Scripture tells us is a Spirit (John 4:24), and therefore transcends any (or includes all) genders.

Infinite God is such that finite humans can’t come close to comprehending what God’s nature is. In Exodus, God tells Moses that God simply is (I am). In addition, the Bible tells us a lot about what God is like in similes and metaphors. God is a lily, a rose, dew, a rock, wind and fire. God is a mother bear, an eagle and a lion, but also a lamb. And that’s just a few of the images used. The ultimate metaphor for God is, of course, our human/divine saviour, Jesus Christ.

Because Jewish culture, like our own, was (and is) largely patriarchal, the pronoun for God defaults to the masculine he/ him, but that shouldn’t fool us into thinking that we should limit God to being primarily male. In Genesis, we are told that God created humans in God’s own image: male and female God made them. Thus, we need to include both genders as imaging God, and God wants us to remember that men and woman, girls and boys are equally made in God’s image.

In contemporary Western culture, we have become increasingly aware that patriarchy has had a detrimental effect on women. Misogyny is alive in many cultures, ours included, and I strongly believe it is a Christian duty to combat it in deed and word. To argue, for example, that the line in Canada’s anthem: “true patriot love in all our sons command” refers equally to our daughters is disingenuous to say the least. Similarly, addressing a congregation of women and men as “brothers” or referring to humans in general as “mankind” is perceived by most women as not including them. I believe that common courtesy and linguistic loving requires us (and especially us men) to consciously work on using inclusive language.

While it is true that the Bible writers of both the Old and New Testaments mostly defer to their own cultural patriarchy when referring to God in male terms, there is also a remarkable number of scriptural passages that provide female images of God. Here are a few of them:

Hosea 11:3-4 – God described as a mother God “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I who took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.”

Hosea 13:8 – God described as a mother bear “Like a bear robbed of her cubs, I will attack them and tear them asunder . . . .”

Deuteronomy 32:11-12 – God described as a mother eagle “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.”

Deuteronomy 32:18 – God who gives birth “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.”

Isaiah 66:13 – God as a comforting mother God “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”

Isaiah 49:15 – God compared to a nursing mother God “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.”

Isaiah 42:14 – God as a woman in labour God “For a long time I have held my peace, I have kept myself still and restrained myself; now I will cry out like a woman in labour, I will gasp and pant.”

Psalm 131:2 – God as a Mother “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.”

Psalm 123:2-3 – God compared to a woman “As the eyes of a servant looks to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to you, YHWH, until you show us your mercy!”

So, is God male or female?

Neither and both. 

About the Author
God’s gender

Bob Bruinsma

Bob Bruinsma is the author of a regular column in CC called "by the Way." He lives in Edmonton.