Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Why is God a "He"?

God is Spirit and does not have gender.  So why is God called a "He"?  I am hearing many accusations in classes that Christianity is sexist because God is labeled as a "He".


Daniel Kim said...

Good question. It's true that God is Spirit and therefore does not have a gender. God actually identifies with both genders, as our Heavenly Father, and as a mother (Isaiah 49:15) and like a mother hen (Matt 23:37). When God created human beings in His own image, it says God created them male and female.

So then why is God called a "He"? Well, a simple answer is that God HAD to choose a gender to reveal himself to us. A prime example is Jesus. Jesus, in order to be a real person, could not be genderless. In order for God to reveal Himself as a personal God, He had to choose.. (because human beings have no concept of genderless persons).

Why male, though? Why Father? Why not Mother? Well, I think there are some good reasons for that (such as God revealing Himself to a patriarchical human culture as the One to follow, such as using the imagery of King, etc.) God reveals Himself in the way that the recipients of that revelation understand... so in my opinion, it makes sense that God revealed Himself as a male.

But let's take a step back and consider this issue again. The question is "why male? Why not female?" Let's go with that. Let’s say God chose Mother. Well, then, someone could come along and say: why mother? Let’s say God became incarnate through a woman rather than Jesus. People could then say: why a woman? God had to choose, and He chose male, for whatever reason He had.

Now, we could say: okay, then we shouldn’t call God a “He”, since God is actually not gendered.

But I think that would be overstepping our boundaries. Since God chose to reveal Himself to mankind as male, for whatever reason, it is appropriate for us to interact with Him in the way that He chose. It’s sort of like this: I am a husband and a father and a pastor and a friend and many other things. I am much more than just a “daddy” – however, when it comes to my relationship with my children, I reveal myself to them as daddy. And I want them to interact with me as a “daddy”, and not try to overstep that and start to treat me as a husband or a friend. I am all those things, but I would expect my children to interact with me in the way that I have chosen to interact with them, though limited as it might be.

In the same way, God revealed Himself in a particular way, and it seems to me to be rather pretentious for us to overstep that revelation and try to get a "backstage" pass to God and dismiss the way that He chose to interact with us. Yes, we know that God is, in essence, neither He nor She. (Is God an "It", then?) But the fact is that God historically revealed Himself as a "He", and we ought not to dismiss that and pretend that we know how to interact with God in ways that are superior than the way that God chose.

Hope that helps.

Brian I said...

"Well, I think there are some good reasons for that (such as God revealing Himself to a patriarchical human culture as the One to follow, such as using the imagery of King, etc.) God reveals Himself in the way that the recipients of that revelation understand... so in my opinion, it makes sense that God revealed Himself as a male."

Hi Daniel, I was wondering about this point because it seems to me that it also makes sense that within a patriarchical human culture, that it would make sense that God is male and therefore it make sense that they "chose" God to be male. I guess it is a question of which gave rise to which? Was it a male dominated society that gave rise to God revealing himself as a man or was it God revealing himself as man that developed the "male-centric" society. Because I can kind of see someone that is stuck on this issue arguing against the above argument as saying, "then God therefore "became" a he because of the male dominated culture.

Also, I'm a little confused about the genderlessness of God. I thought that God was the Father in person, the Son in person, and the Holy Spirit in person. And so God the Father seems to be clearly male, similarly with the Son and only the Holy Spirit seems genderless. It seems like the mother references in the Bible are more of analogies/similies/metaphors rather than clear identities of God such as God the Father. But I just wanted to know what you thought.
Thanks for making this blog, it has really helped!

Unknown said...

God is referred to in scripture as He because God Is the Father

God is abundant in His life. He wants many sons to be His expression. In order for human beings to become His sons, they must receive God as life. When they have Him as life, they are begotten of Him; He becomes their Father. In the Bible, the source of one's life is one's father, not mother. Therefore, the Bible refers to God as He.

Anonymous said...

So it wouldn't have anything to do with the fact that all God stories are centuries old and at the time of writing men ruled the roost...and before you get all defensive I can also parlez about strong women of the time etc. etc. but all frankly wanted God to be MALE - shocking!

Daniel Kim said...


I would agree with your sarcasm completely -- that God is male because male writers and rulers wanted God to be male -- IF your unstated presumption is true... If God is nothing more than a figment of our imagination, if God is just a word that we made up to describe an impersonal "force" of some sort, if indeed the "God stories" are nothing more than tall tales, then God's maleness is completely arbitrary and contingent upon our culture.

However, if God is actually personal, and if God has a mind / preference regarding how to reveal Himself, then isn't it possible that God revealed Himself in a gendered way? Should we deny God of that prerogative?

I actually never said that God's maleness had "nothing" to do with the fact that males ruled. In fact, like my first comment implied, I do grant you the theoretical possibility that if we lived in a sci-fi alternative universe where there were no gendered beings, then God probably would not have revealed Himself as male or female, since that would be nonsensical to us. But if God is real and personal, and since we live in this particular universe where persons are gendered, then I don't think we are in the position to deny Him of the prerogative to reveal Himself in a particular way.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous said...

Human Souls have no genders but humans are governed by the vessel in which the soul resides. Hormones influence gender perception. A person who is both male and female(morphodite) is influenced by the human brain as to which gender to chose. Some creatures, such as shrimp, are male one year and female the next. Our creator is neither male nor female. Human bodies are gendered strictly for procreation. The bible was written by men.

Unknown said...

Exactamundo. All other reasons I read are men using the story men told to validate men telling the story with a male lead character. God is not a he nor did god reveal himself in a manner men would understand. And heavenly father as a term does not make a lick of sense. If any gender "god" is representative of a woman, except where men lead creation of history.

Daniel Kim said...

Scooper Mikey, I'm a bit confused as to what the assumptions are here. So please help clarify this for me.

I need to assume that you actually believe that God exists when answering this question. If God does not actually exist, then your comments would make sense; however, this whole question becomes an uninteresting question, because if God doesn't actually exist, then who cares what gender we give this fake entity? Why even fight the notion that God is a "He", if God is a figment of our imagination? It's sort of like getting upset that Superman is a man. Who cares?

Yet the fact that you seem to care assumes that this Being that we call God might be out there somewhere. Or at least that's what we are theoretically assuming when we talk about this God.

So I just wanted to clarify this. Scooper Mikey, are you saying this under the assumption that God actually exists? Or are you saying this under the assumption that God does not exist? I ask, because the way that we can discuss this would differ vastly depending on that basic assumption.

Daniel Kim said...

Also, Scooper Mikey says that God did not reveal himself in a manner men would understand.

Assuming that Scooper believes that God (in some unfathomable manner) exists, I wonder how you can claim this. I have a few options on what you might mean by this..

1) You mean that God did not reveal himself in a manner that men would understand God exhaustively. But it's possible to understand A LITTLE BIT.

2) You are saying that God's revelation to mankind never happened, because God simply never did, never intended to.

3) You are suggesting that God revealed himself, but it was a useless revelation, since it was just gibberish to mankind. (I would imagine that God would have known that such a revelation would have been useless, so he intentionally revealed something that mankind would not understand.)

4) You are suggesting that God revealed himself intending to be understood, but mankind, because we're so lowly, could not understand. But it's theoretically possible to understand some of it.

5) God did not reveal himself, because God doesn't actually exist.

6) God exists, but God is more like a force or a concept that doesn't have any intentions, so it would be meaningless to suggest that God would intend to reveal himself. God exists in a similar way that the universe exists. It's just there. In that sense, God is not a He, nor a She, nor a Personhood; God is an "It". (or at least that's the human conceptualization that hits closest to the truth of the ontology of God).

I think these are some possibilities of the assumptions that might underlie these claims. Which one are we talking about? I think it would be quite helpful to narrow down the discussion, so that we can focus and go more in-depth with our topic.

Unknown said...

If you are a Christian, the answer is simple: God is a male and not a female nor sexless. As far as I know babies are the results of a sexual encounter between a male and a female; never from two females nor two males. Jesus was "born of a woman." Which means his Father was a male. Jesus always called God Father and promised believers they too can called God "abba", Hebrew for Father. Jesus also said, "if you see me, then you have seen the Father."

Daniel Kim said...

I would like to push back on what Donald Dawson wrote a little. It is true that Jesus was male. And it's also true that God uses the word "Father" and "Son" to describe himself and Jesus and their relationship.

However, he seems to be interpreting those words as very biological, something that is very physical, even mentioning how babies only come from a sexual encounter between a male and a female, etc.

Well, if I follow your logic, then there must be a God the Mother? Maybe you're suggesting that Mary is God the Mother? Or that God the Father actually had a physical relation with Mary? (which is the belief of Mormonism)

To get to the point, I would like to ask: Do you think God the Father has a X & Y chromosome? Yes, when the Word became flesh in the incarnation of Jesus, he had an X & Y chromosome, because he entered time and space and took on human flesh. However, does God the Father have a physical body? Does the Holy Spirit have a physical body? The mainstream Christian teaching is that they do not have a X & Y chromosome, because God and the Holy Spirit do not have a human body. (with Jesus, it's a little bit more complicated, because of the incarnation). So if God the Father does not have a X & Y chromosome, then in what sense is God a "male" in the sense that you describe it? He revealed Himself AS male (which should be respected), but I think it would be wrong to have a very physical interpretation of God's "Fatherhood" or maleness.

Like I said above, though, this does not mean that we overstep the boundary of God's revelation and start calling God as a non-male or an "it". God did reveal Himself as a He, so we should respect the way in which God revealed Himself.

Anonymous said...

At what point in history and why was god anthropomorphized?

Daniel Kim said...

When God chose to reveal Himself to human beings. That's when He had to anthropomorphize Himself... lest God become an "It".

But I can see that if you deny the whole possibility of the real existence of God (and therefore also deny the possibility of this God revealing Himself/Herself/Themselves), then I can understand why someone would think that the concept of God was anthropomorphized by human beings - because, after all, God doesn't actually exist. But IF God does actually exist, and this God chose to reveal the Godself to human beings, then you can see that this God had to anthropomorphize Himself to an extent, right?