In our previous post we saw that male and female image God’s masculine and feminine polar characteristics transcendence and immanence in 10 ways. Hence, the man is focused “outward” towards the physical world whereas the woman is focussed “inward” towards relationships .
Since this teaching follows on from that post you would be wise to check it out first.
To say which gender is more important is like saying which part of God is more important. If you take away a part you lose the full image of God – so in order to fully glorify God (that is to declare His nature fully) it is essential that both genders are expressed in marriages, parenting and society.
Masculine not feminine
If we denigrate the feminine characteristic of immanence, we end up with a distant God; one who sets the world running but is far removed from it and its day to day running. He initiates but doesn’t sustain/nurture us – we’re all on our own. Alternatively, this distant God enacts His will without regard to us or our needs. He is a God who is holy and unapproachable. We can offer our sacrifices and prayers but He’s unlikely to notice.
This is the Greek view that came as a consequence of the separation of the spirit and the physical worlds that infected the early church still holds sway now. This was strengthened by the Enlightenment’s focus on the masculine discursive reason/rational thinking that devalued the feminine intuitive way of thinking and rejected mystery. It led to an increase in those who declared themselves deists. It is the view of fundamentalist Christians, Muslims and, to a certain extent, conservative Christians.
Feminine not masculine
If we denigrate the masculine characteristic of transcendence, we end up with a God who is present everywhere, who is mothering – sustaining us and giving us life. Who is relational but is not holy or separate from us. Therefore since this God so “loving” we can do whatever we want as it doesn’t matter.
This is the view held by New Age religions, pantheists, fertility cults, liberal churches and in many ways Hindus also hold this view.
Neither masculine nor feminine
Since God’s nature contains both masculine and feminine qualities then surely to refer to God as “Him” is incorrect. Perhaps we should refer to God as “it” or, as some theological colleges suggest, “the One who is the Creator”, and thus avoid the tricky gender issue altogether ?
Whilst on the surface this appears to try and capture the fullness of God’s nature – it does so by contradicting Scripture (eg Jesus taught us to pray “Our Father”) and by eliminating the meaning behind God expressing Himself predominantly in the masculine.
So why is God referred to principally in masculine terms?
There are two main reasons. Firstly, much of the Old Testament (especially the Creation story and the deliverance from Egypt) was a proclamation of the transcendence of YHWH against the gods and goddesses of the surrounding nations. Hence, since transcendence is a masculine characteristic, God would express Himself principally as masculine.
The surrounding nations had both gods and goddesses. For example, Baal and His consort Ashtoreth, the Queen of Heaven (whose asherah fertility poles were used to ensure fertility of the land and of women). Hence, as a consequence, their creation myths were linked to the fertility of the goddess and so creation was formed out of their own bodies (eg Enuma Elish).
“Where gods are feminine, they are linked with fertility and the earth. The feminine is the fertile. It is inextricably linked with creation.” Gavin Ashenden
Whereas YHWH is utterly distinct from creation (hence “I am who I am”). Creation was made (bara) by Him from nothing.
The second reason is the God relates to us in a principally masculine way.
“God is so masculine that we all (male and female) are feminine in relation to Him.”
God takes creates the world, we are tasked with stewarding it and give back only what we have been given and nurtured. God takes risks by imbuing us with free will. God initiates and we respond. God actively goes out and pursues us and woos us and we respond. He sought out Abraham, Moses and then a people for Himself. Hence, we love because he first loved us. God gives us the gift of life from without and we receive it. God gives us talents and we invest/nurture them. God powerfully delivers us from our enemies. God gives grace to the undeserving and we choose to receive this gift. God calls out our true nature. God gives His seed to Mary who nurtures it. Finally, God appears in Jesus in a male body showing that He gives Himself for us and we respond as His Bride.
“The Jewish revelation was distinctive in its exclusively masculine pronoun because it was distinctive in its theology of the divine transcendence. That seems to be the main point of the masculine imagery. As a man comes into a woman from without to make her pregnant, so God creates the universe from without rather than birthing it from within and impregnates our souls with grace or supernatural life from without. As a woman cannot impregnate herself, so the universe cannot create itself, nor can the soul redeem itself. Surely there is an inherent connection between these two radically distinctive features of the…biblical religions…: their unique view of a transcendent God creating nature out of nothing and their refusal to call God “she” despite the fact that Scripture ascribes to him feminine attributes like compassionate nursing (Is. 49:15), motherly comfort (Is. 66:13) and carrying an infant (Is. 46:3). The masculine pronoun safeguards (1) the transcendence of God against the illusion that nature is born from God as a mother rather than created and (2) the grace of God against the illusion that we can somehow save ourselves—two illusions ubiquitous and inevitable in the history of religion.” Kreeft
Since the shape of salvation is principally masculine– it comes from without and not from our own efforts – this is the reason why, unlike the religions of all the surrounding nations, there were only male priests. Their masculinity demonstrates that grace comes from without. It is not man providing animals that makes the gods pay attention and forgive him. It was the fact that the animals were symbolic of the grace that was going to come to them through the Messiah .
Common objections to God being expressed as masculine
Some suggest that God only revealed Himself as masculine due to the patriarchal culture. Whilst at first glance this seems sensible if there is only one God (instead of many), this view is disingenuous for a number of reasons:
Sociologist Dr Goldberg notes that every society ever known has been patriarchal in that men dominate in three areas – the upper hierarchical positions, whatever roles society deems as high status and in male-female interactions . Since this phenomenon is universal it must have a physiological cause. And hence this is part of their created nature.
And this is the issue with this theory: it’s the wrong way round. It assumes that humans are independent of God and so He seeks to express Himself in ways that we understand. Whereas the reality, as we have seen in previous posts, is that God has made creation, including mankind, to glorify Him by reflecting His nature.
God is the Father from whom all Fatherhood is named (Eph 3:15). He is the source of the image. It is not that we have fathers and then project that image onto God nor that He then expresses Himself as a father so we understand Him.
Marriage was created to reflect the mystery of our union to Christ (Eph 5:31-32). Jesus is the source of the image. It is not that we invented marriage and then He expresses Himself through that concept.
Similarly gender, which permeates all of creation, reflects God’s nature. Male and female are made in His image and therefore embody His masculine and feminine characteristics in both physiological and psychological ways. He is the source of the image. It is not that children are merely blank slates whose behaviour is socially constructed.
This view comes from the women’s liberation movement. Women were made to feel inferior by many men, rather than respected as equal image bearers, and so by saying there is no difference would imply equality. However, by rejecting the differences between genders this view loses the meaning behind why God expresses Himself as masculine. Therefore, this leads them to reject the differences within God and see him as gender neutral and look for another reason as to why He expresses Himself as principally masculine.
But equality doesn’t mean uniformity. If it did then we would only need one gender to fully reflect the image of God. One sex would be redundant – whereas God has designed it so both are needed to reflect His full image and therefore we are designed to be dependent on each other. Our unity expresses God’s glory.
Further, this view naturally postulates that men and their patriarchal culture are to blame and hence can lead to the demonization of masculine traits such as competitiveness and rejection all of that culture. Instead the blame should be seen to be sin which has cut men off from the source of love. Therefore the solution is the blood of Christ.
Working within this paradigm, the fact that the Hebrews have no goddesses can be interpreted to be suppression of the feminine .
We have seen already why God is principally expressed in the masculine, but in addition, ethnologists, such as Wilhelm Schmidt, Andrew Lang and E.O. James note that in all primitive cultures, a monotheistic High God is “a genuine feature of uncontaminated primitive religion” and that “the name ‘father’ is applied to the supreme being in every single area of the primitive culture when he is addressed or appealed to…” Polytheism came about as tribes met and blended or conquered each other. So the Hebrews were actually going back to the original truth.
Finally this paradigm would see that the fact that there were no priestesses as a sign of male oppression of women.
However, all the surrounding patriarchal nations had priestesses. So this would have to mean that the God was not able to stand against the Hebrew society that oppressed women. This is bizarre given that the Law was in total contrast to the surrounding nations. Therefore, we would have to conclude that God gave laws which were complicit in that oppression. Further, this would imply that Jesus was also unable to stand up for what was correct in this matter and was complicit. Which again is bizarre given that He stood up and overturned all the false traditions that did not reflect His Father’s nature and desire.
Within this paradigm the only logical possibility, if God is not a tyrant, is to say that the Bible is not actually the word of God but only of man. Men hid what God the Father and Jesus actually said and our whole faith is based on a lie.
“Goddesses have, of course, been worshipped: many religions have had priestesses. But they are religions quite different in character from Christianity…. Since God is in fact not a biological being and has no sex, what can it matter whether we say He or She, Father or Mother, Son or Daughter?
But Christians think that God Himself has taught us how to speak of Him. To say that it does not matter is to say that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin; or else that although inspired, is merely arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable; or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favour of Christian priestesses [or a gender neutral God], but against Christianity” CS Lewis
It is my hope that by understanding the meaning behind gender we see the logical outworking of that in how God principally reveals Himself to us and how we relate to Him and why it is important that both genders need to expressed in marriage, parenting, the church and society.