Thursday 2 June 2011

Genderless God?

In one of his responses to my article “Towards a theology ofgay marriage”, John Richardson made the following comment…

Far from being ‘genderless’ however, this mystical union undergirds the very notion of gender – including the basis on which we call God ‘he’.   As CS Lewis once put it, “What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relationship to it.”
While I do not have sufficient expertise in relation to CS Lewis to know what point he was trying to make, John Richardson’s comment did make me reflect about God as solely male - so ‘male’ that we can only call him ‘He’.

Many women have, of course found this difficult to accept, particularly since the rise of feminism.  The Christian faith has come under attack from some feminists for our male only hierarchy and male God, while others have sought to redress the balance with prayers addressed to ‘Mother God’ or ‘Our Mother who art in heaven’.
It reminds me of a joke I once heard about someone who had died and gone to heaven. 

He was met by St Peter at the Pearly Gates and given a tour of paradise.  After being shown rooms for different Christian Traditions each with their own appropriate decoration, trappings and ornaments, the new arrival finally asked if he could meet God now.  St Peter hesitated, and looked unsure.  Finally he said, “Well I suppose so, but you will have to be prepared for a shock”.
The new arrival tried to assure St Peter that he was ready - that he had read his Bible and knew that he would almost certainly be overcome by awe, wonder, and godly fear at the sight of the omnipotent, great “I am” whose presence has struck fear and trembling into people throughout  human history.

St Peter eventually agreed, but as they came to the door into God’s presence, he whispered to the new arrival, “It’s not those things that will shock you – you see, She is Black!”
The biggest problem with those who would want to keep God as solely masculine however, is that it simply isn’t Biblical.

Alongside the feminine pictures of God which appear in the Bible, (like that of a mother comforting her child  or a hen gathering her chicks ) there is the clearest indication in Genesis 1 that we cannot restrict God in this way.
At the creation of human beings in Genesis 1:27, we read that

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

For me the Word of God here is very clear – both women and men, in all their fullness, are made in the image of God.  Anything less would be to subtract from the Scriptures - and in a way which then affects our view of everything which follows, from Genesis 1 all the way to Revelation 22.  For God to create male and female in his image, God must be both male and female in a way which transcends our limited human understanding. 
But that does not imply a ‘genderless’ God anymore than same-sex marriage implies ‘genderless’ marriage.  What it actually implies is a 'genderful’ God who is able to relate to both men and women fully, and with whom both women and men can relate fully without having to set aside part of their gender or sexuality in the process.

For me personally as a man, I have always been comfortable in calling God Father (while recognising that others find this difficult) but I have felt equally comfortable relating to the Holy Spirit as female and allowing Her to enrich my Christian life and faith.
She has filled my life with the presence of God, and She has made the reality of God more real in my life.  She has led me in the Truth of Christ, given me Her gifts, and enabled me to grow in Her fruit.  In all of these things, I am indebted to God, who is both male and female - Father Son and Holy Spirit.

I believe in a Genderful God.

(You might also like to see the response to this post on Significant Truths which expands and develops the idea of a Genderful God in a very helpful and creative way)


  1. There are feminists that don't like referring to the Holy spirit as 'she' because we then have to think of creator God and redeemer God as 'He' and the danger is that by feminising the third person of the Trinity she is no longer an equal and becomes subordinate. It is just another way of keeping women firmly in their place.

  2. Love the term 'genderful' though!

  3. Well - I have read 'The Shack' and frankly, I always knew that God was more interesting than the generally imagined 'White Bloke' in the sky with a beard...
    We don't do ourselves any favours as spiritual beings, to place such terrible limitations on the Divine.
    The Divine Spirit must have an aspect of Black Woman and then again, of everyone - surely YES!

  4. A feminine Holy Spirit cannot be in any way subordiante to Creator and Redeemer, except in the sense that all persons of the Trinity subordinate themselves to one another. To beleive in a subordinate Holy Spirit is actually to misunderstand and undermine equality or being and substance within the Trinity.

    That said, seeing God in these terms is something which works for me spiritually, and I recognise that it will not work for everyone. I know that God is big enough for us each to find a way of relating to the Genderful God in a way which works for us. Afterall, God is beyond all our comprehensions!

  5. I agree that God both transcends gender and is genderful" rather than a specific gender.

    I don't agree with the mindset of,
    “What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relationship to it”
    because this assumes that maleness is "above and beyond" - innately superior- and that femaleness is subordinate- powerless,dependent, fallible and submissive in comparion(just as we are to God.)
    Some feminist perspectives might see femaleness as "above and beyond" as women give birth and sustain life. Many early cultures have feminine divinities for this reason.
    I see men and women as equals, so, like the God in whose image we are made, we are both "genderful" - enriched by our gender - and we transcend gender, in that we relate as human beings first and foremost rather than simply as men and women.

  6. Hi Sue
    I don't agree witht eh CS Lewis quote either - John Henson has some interesting things to say about his world-view on my facebook page. In short - he was a man of his time, and we have moved on since then.

    I love your last paragraph...

  7. I think there's a problem in that unlike ancient Hebrew, the English language (and many other languages) only has 'he' or 'she' as personal pronouns. God is personal but transcendant other, neither male nor female. We can't use 'it' as God is not a 'thing'. I don't have a problem with addressing God as 'Father' or 'Mother' but using these terms does not mean I think of God as either male or female or both. In public preaching I tend to try to avoid using 'he' (or 'she') when referring to the Creator of all that is, so I use 'God' or 'Creator', 'Redeemer' etc. rather too often. Your idea of 'genderful' is interesting, must think more about that.

  8. Thanks Nancy - I think that all too often we are too restrictive in our descriptions of God, and I think we have a long history of doing this in relation to gender.

    Perhaps 'genderful' gives us an opportunity to be more expansive in our thinking and relating.