A case for the femininity of God
Last week I put the cat among the pigeons, somewhat, by referring to the Holy Spirit as a she.
I enjoy receiving correspondence from readers, and I received two letters: one from a woman who felt insulted, and another from a woman that felt affirmed by my use of the feminine pronoun. I was rather excited as it means I have (well, had) at least two readers, although perhaps now only one.
Therefore, as tomorrow is Trinity Sunday – the Sunday when we celebrate God as three-in-one; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – I am going to put my case for affirming the femininity of God. If you are likely to be offended, please do read on!
I would like to begin with an observation and it is this: that God, over time, has been revealing Themself to humanity. Now, before we get hung up on pronouns, yes, I just used “themself” to refer to God. Let me remind you of the words used by God in Genesis Chapter 1, Verse 26 where God says, “Let us make humans in our image, according to our likeness.” Already we can see that somehow this one God is also community! But I get ahead of myself.
The first point I want to make is that God has been revealing Themself to humans – specifically choosing a community of people to be representatives to the world. The Bible is the writings of this community – a collection of poetry, letters, history, narrative, song, legal documents and more, spanning centuries. Through reading and studying the Bible, we can see how this community gets a revelation of who God is, that changes and grows over time as God reveals more and more of their character. And, similarly, as God is still revealing themself to us, then it is perfectly acceptable (and humble) to suggest that we do not yet have the full and complete revelation of God: that there are aspects of God's character and nature that still remain mysterious and unknown to us. And this begs the question, what is God revealing to the world today? And how is our understanding of God developing? I will come on to this later.
The second point I would like to make is very simple, and it is that God is neither male nor female. Let us return to Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 27 where it reads, "So God created humans in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them." Aha! I hear you cry. It says "he" created. Well, actually, one could argue that in Hebrew the word is just "created" and that there is no "he". A more accurate translation would be: "So God created humans in the image of self, in the image of God created them; male and female created them." It does not scan quite so nicely. But arguments about the pronoun aside, the point is surely that the masculine and feminine are both equally part of the nature and character of God?
So what does this mean for us when we think of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, if God is neither male nor female? Well, we have to get into our heads that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, while perhaps in patriarchal pronoun or physical form may well be male, they have the qualities of both male and female. Think about Jesus for a moment. His physical appearance was as a man, yet Jesus existed before the creation of the world, before there were any men or women; simultaneously wholly and part of the communal God. And think about Jesus' words and actions. He bore many (if not all) what we might consider stereotypical feminine traits. He used phrases such as, "longing to gather Jerusalem as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings." He let his beloved disciple recline and rest against his chest. He was compassionate, nurturing, sensitive, supportive, gentle, warm, modest, humble, affectionate, expressive, tender, emotional, kind, devoted and understanding.
We live in revelatory times do we not? We are beginning to appreciate and have a much greater understanding of gender and transgenderism. There are undoubtedly, females in male bodies and males in female bodies, and everything in between such that male and female boxes do not cover how people identify or understand themselves. And as a Christian who has an understanding and comprehension of both the masculinity and femininity of God, this makes perfect sense to me. And this leads me on to my final point.
The Holy Spirit (Pneuma) in the Greek New Testament has no gender-specific pronoun but is occasionally referred to as "he", especially when using other names, for example, "helper" (Paraclete) which is masculine. And in the Old Testament Hebrew, the Holy Spirit (Ruach) has a feminine pronoun. Therefore, I use feminine pronouns for the Spirit, and for God, whenever it is contextually sensitive to do so, as a reminder to us that God is neither male nor female, but has the image characteristics of both. It affirms that all, no matter what gender, are created in the image of God, especially in a patriarchal and often, sadly, male-dominated society.
This feminine aspect of God is explored and revealed in various places throughout the Biblical texts. Coincidentally, one of the texts set for tomorrow, Trinity Sunday, is Proverbs Chapter 8 where wisdom is personified as a woman and the parallels with the person of the Holy Spirit in the Book of Genesis and the description of Jesus found in John Chapter 1 are profound. It makes for some deep and wonderful reading; so deep in fact that one needs to read, and re-read, and meditate on it – to allow it to wash over you, inspire you, and speak to you. Tomorrow, at 9.30am we will be listening to it read to us by four women in St. Mark's Church and, if you would like to, you are welcome to join us.
Finally, whether you are male, female, a mixture of both, or do not fit any label or box, may you know the Holy Trinity of God's love, acceptance, blessing, and peace – now and for ever. Amen.
Till next time. Heaps of Peace.
• The Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm