The Simple Catholic Snapshots:
- God is revealed in Holy Scripture as Masculine
- Some people are troubled by the perceived “gender bias” in Scripture to the point of rejecting the Word.
- I found 5 really good reasons to embrace the idea of God using a masculine gender.
- God the Transcendent Creator
- God as Trinity
- The Church is the Bride of Christ
- Jesus’ Message of Salvation
- Because the Bible Says So.
The Simple Catholic Truth:
Last week, our parish hosted their annual Holiday Craft Boutique. I’m not a craft fair type of person but decided to participate as a vendor in order to promote and sell copies of my new book Roadtrip – A Journey to Forever. As it turned out I had a really great time meeting many new people and sharing some interesting conversation. While describing the Roadtrip story to one woman, I mentioned the main protagonist was a young man estranged from his father. I continued by saying this relationship is explored throughout the book and my hope is that many readers will reflect on their relationship with God the Father.
At this point, the mood turned as she posed a serious challenge to the idea that God is predominately portrayed as a male figure. I must clarify here that this woman was not a raving radical feminist type. However, she honestly felt that Scripture contained a gender “bias” and was sincerely troubled. Our conversation was polite and constructive but I could see that she wasn’t convinced by my explanation. Since then it seemed to me that many people might have the same question so I decided to do a little research and post the results here at SimpleCatholicTruth.
Before getting started with the list of 5 good reasons God is portrayed as masculine, I think we must first pause and get our terms straight. In English, it is common to use the words “gender” and “sex” interchangeably. Unfortunately, the words “masculine” and “male” (or “feminine” and “female”) are abused in the same manner.
Sex (also male, or female) refers to a person’s physical biological characteristics such as chromosomes, genitalia, internal and reproductive organs.
Gender on the other hand (also masculine, or feminine) refers to behaviors and attitudes and capabilities of that person.
Sex (being male or female) describes a characteristic of your physical body, wherein gender reveals something about a person’s innate being or nature. We must remember this context, i.e. gender is often a revelation of nature, when interpreting verses from the Bible that describe God.
Since God is pure spirit with no physical body (we’ll talk about Jesus a bit later) then it should be clear that the Bible was not suggesting that God was male. When using masculine terms to describe Himself, God used the inspired Word to tell us something about Himself and His plan of salvation. That said, what possibly could gender tell us about God? Actually much more than you think, I came up with five.
God the Transcendent Creator
Some people claim that the description of God in masculine terms was simply the result of the ancient cultural makeup of the authors of the Bible. Certainly, they claim, these men that wrote the Bible were only continuing the cultural idea of male superiority and oppressive power over women. If only the Bible had been written by a modern “progressive” pen, then all the gender bias would be corrected and God would be better for it. These musings however are an attempt to forge the inspired word of God into what they want to hear instead of listening to what God is trying to say. In the Bible, God is referred to as Father to express a theological reality, not a social paradigm.
The word “father” connotes the idea of founder, producer, or creator. Take a look at the opening of the Nicene Creed:
“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, Maker of all that is, seen and unseen… We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, …begotten, not made, consubstantial of one Being with the Father…”
Here we affirm that God created the universe (Gn 1&2) but He begat his only Son. In both cases, the terms “maker” and “begotten” reveal to us that God actively and by His will alone produces. God as Father is the reality of His transcendent creative power, and not a male-centered cultural distortion.
Granted, all analogies are imperfect but consider the act of human procreation. From the perspective of the woman’s body, life is not spontaneous. The creation of life is initiated beyond the woman’s nature by the action of man. A man influences a woman’s body to impregnate her and create life. God similarly initiates and causes the creation of life from outside the nature of that being created. In other words, creation is caused by something outside of itself. If we were to refer to God as “mother”, the creator, it would imply the need for some external cause or action for creation.
Similarly, if God were thought of as the “mother” of creation, and metaphorically understood to give birth to creation, it would lead to a misunderstanding that creation came out of God’s essence. In other words, we might believe that creation is part of God. This is absolutely false. As the Church teaches us, God created “ex nihilo”, i.e. out of nothing (CCC296).
Obviously, modern biology tells us that the cellular DNA contribution to a new child is 50% from mom and 50% from dad and on that level the above analogy fails. However, we are not talking about humans beings here, we are talking about God. Instead of a gender bias existing in the Bible, we simply see God revealing something to us that otherwise we might not understand. Masculine terminology preserves the fundamental theological truth of God’s transcendence. He is not part of the universe, nor the universe a part of Him. He created it from nothing and causes creation from outside of creation. God did not have a biological sex prior to the Incarnation; yet in relation to the creation He has made, He is masculine and He communicates this divine truth in His inspired Word by using these human terms.
God as Trinity
If understanding the Transcendence of God was not difficult enough, we now look at another revelation – The Trinity. Again, through the use of masculine terminology, God gives us a glimpse at this profound mystery.
Let’s turn again to the Nicene Creed:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father…
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
If we understand the word “begotten”, we can better understand the appropriateness of using masculine words to describe Jesus. If the verb used here was “made” or “created” (of the Father) instead of begotten, then it would imply that God the Father came first and that Jesus is somehow different than God. Both are categorically false ideas about Jesus. Jesus is eternal with the Father and also shares completely God’s nature. You can use “make” or “create” for producing a universe but when you use “beget” it only means you produce something that has your nature. Therefore when the Bible (and the Creed) speaks of Jesus as God’s only begotten Son, God is revealing to us the mystery of the Trinity. One God – one nature, yet three persons.
Now of course a begotten child could be semantically and literally a son or a daughter. But the best way to communicate that the Father’s child shares in His nature, is to use the masculine term of Son. Again, we see that these gender terms are used to communicate understanding about God, not to make a statement on social parity.
To call Jesus “the only begotten Son” simply means that he is fully divine and eternal, the very essence of the concept of the Trinity.
The Church is the Bride of Christ
The metaphors of spiritual marriage with God, Jesus as the Bridegroom, the Church as the Bride of Christ and the Great Wedding Feast are pervasive in the Bible. Understood in this context, it could be said that the ultimate purpose of human life and our salvation, is this spiritual marriage. When this spiritual marriage is consummated, so to speak, our soul is spiritually impregnated by the grace of God, not visa versa. Recalling our previous discussion of human procreation, we once again are reminded that we become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17) by the grace of God from the outside. The new birth—our salvation—also comes from above, from His transcendent power. We do not spiritually impregnate ourselves with salvation or divine life any more than a human women can physically impregnate herself.
Jesus’ Message of Salvation
This fourth reason for God being depicted in masculine terms is more pragmatic in nature and less theological. Generally speaking, women in all times and places and cultures (until the advent of modern feminism) have always been more altruistic, less power-greedy, less violence-prone and more self-emptying than men.
In becoming a man, Jesus in a sense focused on men to transform them into himself. He redefined humanness, and especially manliness, as the courage to love and suffer for the sake of others, rather than to lust and dominate. He taught giving instead of taking. Maybe women were a little less in need of that lesson.
The Bible Says So.
And last but certainly not the least of the reasons to accept God in masculine terms is – because the inspired Word of God says so.
Seeing God described as masculine might grate on the sensibilities of some modern geniuses. We must be careful however to remember that the Bible is very much politically incorrect. We must be careful not to judge God and His revealed message through the lenses of myopic human ideology and opinion.
Even if I don’t understand completely, I must accept the fact that this is how God wants me to see Him. Even though I might not understand, I’ll continue trying.
In the meantime, if God wants me to embrace His being in masculine terms and His inspired Word of God says so, then that’s good enough for me.