Gender labels limit God's power
The Rev. Ira DeSpain, campus pastor, Baker University:
Gender identification, similarities and differences are biological issues. Since God is a spiritual and not a biological being, there is not a satisfying answer to this question.
In the creation story, Genesis 1:26 and following, God said, "Let us make humans in our image ... in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them."
One question that this raises is, "To whom is God speaking here?" Perhaps to other heavenly beings, or to Jesus, or to the animals that God had already created. No one knows. What we do know is that God created both male and female in God's image. In that sense, God is both male and female.
Jesus refers to God as "father," suggesting that his image of God was masculine. Yet Jesus also prays for Jerusalem, saying that he would gather up Jerusalem's children, "as a hen gathers her brood under her wings." (Matthew 23:37) The image of God here is female.
Paul doesn't write about God's gender identification but does write about ours: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, we are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28). Paul suggests that our gender identification is immaterial in God's eyes.
But the best answer came from my mother, who, along with my father, nurtured me in the faith from my infancy. I told her I was writing this column and what the question was. She replied, "What difference does it make?" That is really where I am. To attempt to force God into a gender role is to attempt to limit God's power - something that no one, of course, can do.
- Send e-mail to Ira DeSpain at firstname.lastname@example.org.
'Male' spirit evident in Bible
Doug Heacock, contemporary worship leader, Lawrence Free Methodist Church, 3001 Lawrence Ave.:
Technically, God is a spirit, according to the words of Jesus - "God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24). Whether a spirit can have an actual gender or not is probably not something we can really be confident about, one way or the other, this side of heaven, but it seems clear that a spirit can have personhood, as the pronoun used to refer to the Holy Spirit in Scripture is generally "he" and not "it." God is consistently represented as male in both the Old and New Testaments, with the possible exception of a passage where God, speaking through the prophet Isaiah, says, "As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you" (Isaiah 66:13). But a single use of this simile, among hundreds of other passages in which God is described as Father, or referred to with masculine pronouns, isn't enough to warrant giving much thought to the notion that God might be female.
There have been several gender-inclusive translations of the Bible in recent years, and in some passages referring to people, male pronouns are replaced with gender-inclusive words, when it is clear that the intent is not strictly gender-specific. But in general, translators have left the male references to God alone. The concept of God as our heavenly Father permeates the Scripture so thoroughly that to believe otherwise would be to twist the meaning of much of the Bible beyond recognition.
I humbly submit that whatever "male" might mean in the spirit realm, I believe God is male.
- Send e-mail to Doug Heacock at email@example.com.