It’s the 12th, and that’s the day I post on the Emerging Voices blog on Patheos. This month, I’ve posted the entire piece here first because it talks about why I refer to God as “She,” and why that shouldn’t be such a big deal.
Many people believe (even at a subconscious level) that to refer to God using female pronouns is just plain wrong, if not heresy.
I am constantly amazed at the linguistic contortions people will go through to make the point that, while God is not male or female, we still must use male pronouns to refer to “Him.” Other writers assert that God is spirit, not gendered in any sense of the term, but they still use “He” and “His” exclusively throughout their argument. (Google “Is God male?” to see what I mean.)
I understand that to refer to God using male pronouns is not necessarily an attempt to assert God’s masculinity (though, certainly, it is for some). Instead, since many languages lack a gender neutral pronoun that can be (non-pejoratively) applied to living beings, using a gendered pronoun becomes necessary.
But I also understand why the male and not the female pronoun was selected by authors, translators, and everyone else involved in the creation of the Bible. It’s because of the longstanding belief that the male version of a human being is superior to the female version. It’s patriarchy, folks, plain and simple.
So for me, calling God “She” serves as a bit of an antidote to the venomous anti-female bias inherent in Judeo-Christian history.
When I call God “She,” it reminds me, every time I say it or write it, that half of the human beings here on Earth are not “other,” and in fact, those people who identify as female are also created in the image of God.
With that said, I am not attempting to “gender” God when I say “She.” My use of female pronouns doesn’t evoke in me the image of a human being, or even some big ol’ goddess hanging around in the sky. Instead, when I say “She,” when I think of “Her,” I get a full, warm, compassionate feeling in my heart. I get a God-of-Love feeling.
When I say “He,” I don’t get that same feeling. Maybe it’s because of the image of God I absorbed during my childhood, the scary dude who sat up in heaven and “judged the quick and the dead.” Maybe it’s because everyone I’ve ever met who makes it a point to exclude LGBTQ people calls God “He.” I don’t know. But I do know that “She” just feels more like a God-of-Love to me.
This might be different for you. But there’s no right or wrong in it! It’s just a linguistic choice we are all free to make.
God is no more female than male. God is God and, as such, God is certainly not something that can be contained or fully described in any linguistic symbols we might come up with. There are no words that could possibly accurately and completely represent that particular referent.
But we do have occasion to want and need to talk and write about God, even though all the linguistic terms we use represent God in some type of image that is limiting.
You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air, or like any creature that moves along the ground or any fish in the waters below. And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the Lord your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. Deuteronomy 4:15–19 (NIV).
To linguistically portray God as a father, or God as a woman giving birth, or an eagle, or a sacred wind, all of those things put a limiting image up to represent God. And, for that matter, so do the three letters, G-O-D. All the ways we choose to refer to God are images, all are limited representations, all are potentially idolatrous symbols. But all our metaphors and ways of referring to God are not necessarily idolatrous. Only potentially.
For me, without the use of pronouns in my writing and talking about God, it becomes very difficult to linguistically represent the aspect of personal connection I feel. And for me, “She” fits better.
Sure, I’ll still wonder, when someone refers to God as “He” all the time, if they have really thought about why they do that. And if given half a chance, like maybe right now, I might suggest to them that it could be interesting to explore any aversion they feel about using female pronouns for God. They might want to consider what stops them from allowing God to be linguistically linked to the beauty, value, and spiritual worthiness of half the human population.
But in the final assessment, I don’t think any of us is qualified to tell anyone else how to refer to God. We just aren’t. So maybe the best we can do is approach each person’s way of referring to God with compassionate curiosity, remembering our perception is always lacking, and our written and spoken expression is always inadequate to illuminate what is most important.
“For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.” First Corinthians 13:9–10 (NIV)
I’ve been calling God “She” for a number of years. I’ve written previously about how I started doing this (“The “She” in My Pocket” on this website, and “The Power of an Unexpected Pronoun” on the God Is Not a Guy website).