Gender and the Attributes of God

(This is part of my December Experiment series)

After a week and a half, one of the realities that has set in is that I simply don’t refer to God often enough to even warrant frequent use of pronouns. One area that most church going folks do reference God is in our singing. So, on our drive home after Thanksgiving, Mindy and I sang a few songs, racking our brains for ones that use pronouns. It’s amazing how much difference a single letter can make. Read, or sing, the words to this rather popular praise song:

Our God
Is an awesome God
She reigns
From Heaven above
With wisdom,
Power and love
Our God
Is an awesome God

We sang a bunch of other songs, but this one sticks out and is a good case study in the impact of this experiment. I’ll just run through some of my thoughts as we sang and thought about God.

The Attributes of God
It’s quite obvious from a song like this, the impact a “gendered” God has both on our perception of God and our perception of genders. We commonly attribute these attributes “awesome” (as in powerful, but probably also in our 90’s slang use as well), “reigns”, “wisdom”, “Power” as being masculine characteristics. In turn, we further see God as being more “masculine” (for clarification, I’m not suggesting this is a proper definition of “masculine”), and a terrible cycle of gender roles and gendered god is built.
Sing that “She reigns” completely transformed the song for me. I did not have some clear female vision of God, but thinking of God in Her wisdom, Her power, Her love, Her awesomeness brought to life those attributes in a way I hadn’t thought of God before.

Neither Male Nor Female, yet Both
Here’s the odd thing about God not being Male nor Female: I think She’s thus best described as both. The vary nature of God is that She is Super-natural, beyond nature and thus unexplainable in natural, human terms. God is Spirit, and thus gendered terms limit our understanding of God. However, I’m not sure the answer is to remove gender when referring to God (I’m open to other opinions). You see, singing of and acknowledging God’s “feminine” attributes helps provide us with an even more full picture of who God is. For example, take God’s power. We often think of these, often subconsciously, in terms of male power, as to be expected since we refer to God as “He” so often. Regardless of how liberal or conservative your gender stereotypes are, your view or perception of God’s power is limited. When I sing “She reigns, with wisdom, power and love,” my eyes are opened to another perspective on the power of God that I hadn’t seen before. (I hope that’s making sense)

A Thought Experiment
Write down the ten most powerful people that you know of. It’s no secret that our perceptions are based on our experiences. The list of people you wrote, undoubtedly influences your perception of God’s Power. Now, on looking at your list, how many are male and how many are female? If your list is unbalanced (more male then female, or vis versa), then balance it out, so that you have an equal number of men and women on your list.
My feeling is that when you draw your perception of “Power” from this new list, your perception of God’s Power will be made more full and complete. (don’t forget to post your list below!)

One Final Thought
I plan on devoting a full post to this later, but I wanted to note that I think our ideas and perceptions of gender roles have had a terrible impact on us as a society (particularly in the church) and our relationship and connection to God. I fear our societal pressures have had a most oppressive impact on women, and also children. For a great post on the topic, read Erin’s recent blog post or for a more concise thought, read this poster we have hanging in our living room.

[photo credit] and [ht. to Aunt B for posting thoughts on her blog]

12 thoughts on “Gender and the Attributes of God”

  1. Very cool post. One thing that’s always interested me about gendered language is the fact that, when compared to romance languages such as French, English is officially gender neutral, though our words have strong gender connotations as you’ve pointed out in this context.

    As I don’t identify as Christian and know relatively little about the faith (beyond CCD classes as a kid and two required theology courses in college), one thing I’m curious to know is how this experiment would play out in other languages that do gender their words. Do you know if the Bible translates in other languages with any feminine reference words for God and/or general teachings?

    Thanks for linking out to me. I’m looking forward to your upcoming post.

  2. Yes, in human diversity lies the creativity of God. Yes, God is beyond gender- “in the image of God he created them; male and female he blessed them. Isaiah noted how the love of God is like the love of a tender-hearted mother, only deeper and more lasting.

    I, however, am not comfortable with describing God as a “she” because the Bible does not. God is our Heavenly Father, not Mother. Jesus, the image of the invisible God, was a Son, not a Daughter. I prefer not to tamper with these ways that God chooses to describe himself.

    In the Old Testament there was a female god- Asherah, the Queen of Heaven or mother goddess. In the religion of Ahab & Jezebel, she was the wife of El and mother of Baal. This comes to mind when people start describing God as a woman.

  3. Paul—

    God is described as female in the Bible. The ‘Spirit of God’ is feminine in Hebrew. And it seems to me that if Asherah springs to mind when referring to God as female, I don’t see why Baal wouldn’t come to mind when referring to God as male.

  4. It is quite remarkable that you’d recognize the pearl of wisdom from House M.D. on your blog, and yet conjure up yet another baseless description of a God.
    Cherry picking the Bible is, for the lack of a better phrase, an asinine exercise.

    There is no evidence for the God of the Bible that stands up to scrutiny in any comparison to most other non-existent things.

    “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”

    Yet, we dismiss things such as unicorns (the King James Version of the bible does not), leprechauns, Thor, Jedi knights, and do not invade Canada for their alleged possession of WMDs and impending threats.

    Every attribute of God is a man made concept.

    Want to write a challenging blog?

    Lay your case out why God does not cure amputees. Or if God has cured one why is there NO scientific record of the before and after states of the alleged amputee.

    Not one.

    NOT ONE!

    Mention at the end if you feel intellectually dishonest.

  5. Shripathi– There are plenty of blogs and forums out there available for the argument you wish to incite. Sites that are so concerned with arguing, and fighting, and being right that living their beliefs seems to becomes a secondary issue.

    What makes this blog different is that it is challenging, the most honest and challenging one I’ve found, at least to those who have resolved the issue of God’s existence and are searching for a life that genuinely honors him/her.

    This is a blog that challenges traditions, perceptions, and calls for action, what you propose is a giant step backwards.

    At least in my opinion.

    Ariah– Please keep up the good work.

    1. @Shripathi, I think Brent answered far better then I could. I don’t have brilliant words with which to persuade you. Stick around though, maybe you’ll find something here worthwhile or compelling.

      @Brent, thanks for the encourgement.

      @Paul, I think Tim answered you far better then I could (there appears to be a theme here ;). I didn’t come to any major theological conclusions from the month of “Female God” but it did open my eyes in new ways to the fullness of God.

  6. Hi, I just found your blog, and I like it!

    My partner and I sing the song “In the Garden” substituting “You” for “He” (and “She”). It’s a more intimate way to sing the song, like you’re actually talking to God.

    As in:

    I come to the garden alone
    While the dew is still on the roses
    And the voice I hear falling on my ear
    The child of God discloses

    And you walk with me
    And you talk with me
    And you tell me I am your own
    And the joy we share as we tarry there
    All others may someday know.

    You speak and the sound of your voice
    Is so sweet that the birds hush their singing
    And the melody that you gave to me
    Within my heart is ringing

    Chorus

    I’d stay in the garden with you
    ‘Tho the night around me be falling
    But you bid me go; through the voice of woe
    Your voice to me is calling

    Chorus

  7. Wow!!!! What a great blog of controversy. Such comments are seen as relative, subjective, and opinionated. With all due respect, I come not to bring disession or come to entertain conversation that is rash and empty to a certain degree but I am grieved by the isogete and the ideas of God that is in no way found in the word of God. If there are any who would like to carry a conversation in dealing with this issue in a way that may help me to recant such statements, please repond and enlighten me…. LOVE

    1. Ephesians: I’m having a hard time reading between the lines here. I would love to carry on a conversation. Do you mind explaining to me what the conversation your hoping to carry on would be about? Regarding the post and comments above?

      Peace.

      @Jeanne: Thanks for the kind words, interesting song too.

  8. Let’s get one thing perfectly straight and I’ll be brief here:

    You’re entitled to your own opion about the truth of God’s identity,
    however don’t even try to change mine! You’re dealing with one who
    has had a spiritual experience about God. Whenever I refer to God as
    Mother in my prayers, or even meditating (I’m a Sidha whose learned
    the strongest and most effortless form of meditation in the world)
    I feel an infiltration of God as motherly in presence. There was no
    presence in my previous years when I used to refer to God as Father.
    I feel so much pureness along with this motherly presence and it’s
    growing all the time. I always knew of God as in Devine presence,
    however I didn’t quite get it as the true nature of Her until recently. Transcendental Meditation is God-like in bliss-consciousness and thus allows the mind to transcend to the finest form of cognitive awareness thereof. There has been 500 research studies conducted in over 200 countries around the world on T.M. which confirms all mentioned above on the consciousness level. It’s
    no wonder I am feeling the truth-in-light revealed me before me!

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