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Insight #282 – A Gender-Neutral God?

November 4, 2018.

How should we speak of God?  As masculine, feminine, both, or neither? Should we refer to God in gender-neutral, inclusive, expansive language? Or should we just continue in the old-fashioned way of referring to God in masculine terms? The issue is so alive in some churches these days that it makes for news in the mainstream press.

In an attempt to have a gender-neutral God – that is, to avoid speaking of God in masculine terms – there are those who would replace “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,” with “Creator, Christ, and Holy Spirit.” or “Holy Trinity.” There are those who would replace “Father” with “Father and Mother” or “Parent.”

Various reasons are offered for referring to God in gender-neutral terms. Some simply ignore what the Bible says. Others disagree with certain things in the Bible. I have come across only one line of reasoning that appeals to the Bible as grounds for referring to God in gender-neutral terms.

Feminine Characteristics of God in the Bible

This viewpoint calls attention to various texts which portray God as having feminine characteristics. It may be referred to as feminine imagery of God, the feminine side of God, feminine descriptions of God, or feminine characteristics of God.

Most of us likely have not paid attention to Bible verses that refer to God in feminine terms. There are about a dozen such texts that are cited, mostly related to motherhood. In the past, more than once, I admitted that I would not have been a good mother. We think of motherly as tender, loving, caring, compassionate, comforting, affectionate, sympathetic, sacrificial, on duty 24/7.

There surely are some texts that speak of God in such motherly terms. For example, Psalm 131:2: “Surely I have stilled and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with his mother.” Also, Isaiah 66:13: “As one whom his mother comforts, so will I comfort you.” Beautiful figures of a loving God. Those who have experienced tender, compassionate mothers can surely relate to these verses.

Another verse cited as showing the motherly side of God is Isaiah 49:15: “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yes, these may forget, yet I will not forget you!” A beautiful picture of a mother with her nursing infant. What mother would forget her baby? But this text says that, indeed, some mothers may forget – but God will not. God is better than a nursing mother!

We are also told to consider God being compared to a mother bear. Hosea 13:8: “Like a bear that is bereaved of her cubs.” Poor mother! She loves her cubs so much that “I will meet them like a bear that is bereaved of her cubs, and will tear the covering of their heart. There I will devour them like a lioness.” Yes, a loving God protecting offspring – but ferocious toward enemies.

Our attention is also called to Isaiah 42:14: “I will cry out like a travailing woman.” But the context? “Jehovah will go out like a mighty man. He will stir up zeal like a man of war. He will raise a war cry. Yes, he will shout aloud. He will triumph over his enemies. ‘I have been silent a long time. I have been quiet and restrained myself. Now I will cry out like a travailing woman. I will both gasp and pant. I will destroy mountains and hills, and dry up all their herbs.'” Feminine imagery? Only in crying out like a woman in labor. The rest of the imagery is God acting like a man of war. Hardly the gentle nature the text is supposed to portray!

Matthew 23:37: “How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.” A beautiful picture of loving feminine care – out of context. This is Jesus speaking, not God in heaven: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often I would have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is left to you desolate.” Jesus desired to be like that hen, but instead “your house is left to you desolate.” Just three verses later (24:2) He explains: “there will not be left here one stone on another.” Because of their sin, rather than be like a loving hen to them, He would send devastating punishment.

Clarifying the Issue

The Bible certainly does at times describe God as having feminine characteristics, especially those of a mother. Numerous texts could also be quoted where God is described with masculine attributes, animal attributes, and attributes of nonliving things. We all agree that God is sexless. We all agree that God is not an inanimate rock or fortress just because God is described in such terms.

I am reminded of Isaiah 40:17-18: “All the nations are like nothing before him… To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to him?” God is so far above all male and female attributes. God is so far above everything that exists. All the descriptions of God in Scripture are inadequate to express the infinite nature of the Almighty Creator! Any comparison is limited. God is in some ways like a fortress, a mother, a shepherd; but in other ways God is not like any of them. God transcends all.

The issue in the twenty-first century is not if God is male or female or both or neither. Citing texts that compare God to certain persons or things ignores the real issue. The issue is this: should we talk of God – and to God – in gender-neutral terms?

How God is Addressed in the Bible

In the NT, God is called “Father” 267 times! In the entire Bible, God is never addressed as “my Mother,” or “our Mother which art in heaven.” Never! He is called “Father” 267 times. That is 267 proofs that we are correct in referring to God in masculine terms. It does not mean that masculine is better than feminine. It does not mean that God is masculine in the human sense. It does not mean that God has any sex. It is simply 267 proofs that the appropriate way to refer to God is using masculine terms. It is 267 proofs that the whole push for gender-neutral terms for God is erroneous, at best, and rebellious, at worst.

And what about the Son? Jesus is referred to as “Son” 225 times. Of course, nobody disputes that Jesus was a boy, then a man, a male. And, of course, if you believe in the divinity of Jesus, then it is beyond dispute that when Divinity took on flesh, He took it on in male form. “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” comes from Jesus’ mouth (Matt. 28:19). Are some people daring to correct Jesus?

“Father” 267 times and “Son” 225 times makes half a thousand proofs that God wants us to refer to Him in masculine terms. Whatever conclusions we may draw from that – whatever that may affirm or not affirm – an agenda that pushes for referring to God in gender-neutral terms is a worldly agenda, totally at odds with Scripture. Let us praise HIS Holy Name!