God is Not a Woman—but Neither is She a Man

Just to clarify:
God is not a woman.
But neither is she a man.

I’ve used this statement (or one like it) in my teaching over the years. It manages to be thoroughly orthodox yet still provocative, which makes it a great discussion starter. It forces us to examine what we believe about God, and why we believe it. It forces us to examine our underlying biases about God and assumptions about the Bible.

The problem for some Christians is not the basic idea the statement is conveying. It’s hard to dispute that God is genderless, or that God encompasses all genders, or some other way of describing this. Rather, what makes some Christians uneasy is the form in which the statement is made, the grammar of it: the pronoun “she.” And the only real reason one can give for this is “because the Bible.”

Here’s the thing: from cover to cover the Bible was written within patriarchal cultures. This means the fact that the biblical writings predominantly use masculine images for God, and thus masculine pronouns, is rather unremarkable. “King,” “Father,” et cetera, and thus “he,” is what we would expect. What is remarkable is all the times where the Bible does not use masculine images for God, and thus not even always masculine pronouns.

Jaison Cianelli, Warm Embrace

God is a “mother” who gives birth to “her” people and nurtures them (Deut 32:18; Isa 66:13; Hos 11:3-4; etc.). God is a “woman” who searches for “her” lost coin (Luke 15:8-10; and yes, that’s Jesus). God is a “spirit/wind/breath” which moves and blows and breathes where “she” (Hebrew ruach) or “it” (Greek pneuma) pleases.

What’s interesting about that last example is that “spirit” in English is referred to with a neuter pronoun (“it”) when used generically, and only masculine (“he”) or feminine (“she”) pronouns when referring to the spirit of a male or female person. Yet I’ve been chastised for saying “it” when referring to God’s “Spirit”—which kind of highlights the whole point of this exercise! When we say that God is genderless because “God is spirit,” but then we insist on using “he” when referring to God’s “Spirit,” perhaps it’s because our underlying biases are showing…