Talking about God

Language about God remains a problem for modern English speakers. We don’t have  pronouns when referring to God that don’t ascribe gender to God.

The Bible is clear, even if our popular usage is not; God is neither male nor female. The Bible uses lots of different images and metaphors to talk about God. God declines to be labeled by telling Moses, “I am who I am”.

But in common usage, God is often referred to as “he”, or “him”. And often called “Father”. Calling God “Father” is fine. It’s Biblical. Jesus calls God “Father”. But Father language is a problem when it is the only metaphor we use to talk about God.

How do we avoid using male language for God? Some of us try to use both male and female language. Referring to God as “she” and “her” can help remind us that God is not male. But these are still gendered terms. Because most of us hardly ever hear and use “she” it does remind us- by its unexpectedness- that God is not male.  Theologically the use of “she” is just as limiting and incorrect as “he”.

Some of us (and this is my practice) try not to use pronouns at all. We just call God, “God”. This can, admittedly, make for some awkward sentences. I have,with practice, learned to avoid sentence structure that use pronouns when I am speaking about God. When I pray, I don’t typically use “Father”. I simply call God, “God” or “Holy One”. This helps me remember that God is neither male nor female and most importantly to remind myself that God is not a more powerful version of a human. Images and metaphors can help us comprehend important things about God. But all our metaphors are inadequate. God is God.

Gender fluid people and gender nonconforming people have given us some new options. This is a gift of the LGBTQ community to the rest of us.You can learn a bit about these options here and here.  The pronoun I hear used most often is “they/their”. To be honest, it sounds a little odd the first time you hear it. And it feels awkward the first few times you say it. But that is simply a matter of practice and use.

Theologically “they/their” has some interesting possibilities. God is not identified by a gender. That is theologically and Biblically appropriate. “They/their” also helps remind Christians that God is triune. God is one and yet three.

Being attentive to the Trinity matters. Western Christians, if we are not careful, can end up equating “God” with “Father” and then treating “Son” and “Holy Spirit” as some sort of secondary gods. But God is all three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And all three are God. They/their language could help remind us of the complexity of God’s being.

When Moses asks God who they are, God’s response is untranslatable- I am who I am. I will be who I will be. I will be who I am. I am who I will be.

The current discussion about gender and humans may, I hope, help move us past ascribing gender ( intentionally or unintentionally) to God. Recognizing and allowing people to be more than only two distinct genders as humans, may help free us as we think about God. Perhaps, as we become less focused on whether a person is male or female and allow them to be who they understand themselves to be, perhaps we will also become less focused on categorizing God and allow ( so to speak!) God to be who God declares themself to be.




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