In what some might describe as a blasphemous music video for “God is a Woman”, a single released in July this year, Ariana Grande plays the part of God in her own feminist re-creation of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”. It is doubtful she is making any purposeful contribution to theological debate. Rather, for commercial gain, she is encouraging worship of the god of sex as we leer at Grande striking various erotic poses.
Whatever popular culture may want to believe about God, according to a recent survey only 1% of British Christians think God is female. Forty-one percent believe that God does not have a human gender at all. The apparently more “traditional” view that God is a man is held by just over one third (36%) of those polled. A further 3% believe that God has a different human gender identity to male or female, while the remaining 19% say they don’t know.
The only way to reliably answer any questions about God is to consult the Bible, which is notably clear on the subject: God the Father is neither male nor female in biological terms. The Bible uses analogous language to help us understand his attributes but God is beyond our gender definitions. So God the Father is not “human” in that sense. Human descriptions help our understanding, but they should never reduce our view of God into merely human terms.
That this would even be a debatable issue amongst Christians is disappointing. Even among the 40% who got the right answer there will be many who want to see a shift away from using traditional patriarchal language to signal our equality and diversity credentials. The desire to de-gender God is not prompted by a desire for theological accuracy but by an agenda to blur human gender distinctions.
But as Christians we believe that in the beginning God made a world of diverse creatures – including human beings – male and female. We recognise and embrace gender distinctions as something objectively true, but also something good and helpful for society, for family life and for finding our way in the world. We believe it is demeaning, reductionist and dangerous to flatten those differences.
The reason for retaining male descriptions of God is not to hold onto an unwarranted patriarchy, but to acknowledge that the Bible reveals God to us in male terms and, in the case of the first Person of the Trinity, as Father. Yes, he has motherly attributes too, and he is not constrained by the biological limitations of gender. But God is never given a feminine name, or referred to using feminine pronouns.
It is not that God is like a father; he is the Father – he defines fatherhood. And he made human fathers and he gives us the example of good fathers so we can understand the kind of secure relationship of love and protection he offers to us in himself.
God the Son is not the biological descendant of God the Father, although he does relate to the Father as the perfect Son, and he really was born as a male human being, not a female – and certainly not an androgynous “it”.
Our true equality and diversity as humans do not come from bending God into our shape but by accepting his authority to define himself as he wishes – and then by accepting the invitation he gives to us all, male and female, made in his image, to become part of his family and come under the loving rule of the man, Christ Jesus.
by Graham Nicholls