Language is subject to cultural influence, and if you’ve ever studied the origins of words, you know how culture and technology have changed our language. If we would’ve told our grandparents thirty or more years ago that we would “google” the weather forecast, they wouldn’t have known what we were talking about. Culture also affects the language we use in Christianity, which shapes our experience and perception of God.
Many Christians only talk about God using masculine terms or father metaphors, as if this is the only acceptable symbol or picture of God, rather than a reflection of the ancient patriarchal culture of the biblical writers. But Scripture provides us with a diversity of images: masculine, feminine, and non-gendered images.
Deuteronomy 32:18: “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you; you forgot the God who gave you birth.” [Rock and Laboring Mother]
Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” [Light]
Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” [Mother]
When we exclusively use male-gendered metaphors for God, it’s easy to assume God exists as a gendered being. But John 4:24 tells us “God is Spirit,” and spirit doesn’t have a gender.
Consider biblical examples where Jesus disrupts gender norms, especially in his actions toward women and children. Jesus came to break down the cultural norms of his day that boxed God into the patriarchal system that marginalized non-Jews, women, and children. By expanding the language we use to think about God, we can grow into the awe and mystery of being in relationship with our Father/Mother God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Prayer: Light of Life and lover of our souls, expand our hearts’ ability to see your love and care in new and meaningful ways. Amen.
By Nan Kuhlman
Monrovia, CA, US
Note: In GCI, we normally call God “Father” because that is the way Jesus taught us to pray, and the name by which he told us to baptize. Some people misunderstand, and think that the term indicates God’s gender, but it does not. God has roles similar to a human father, similar to a mother, similar to a shepherd, and similar to a king, but God cannot be equated with any of those terms. We continue to use the terminology Jesus gave us and seek to help people understand what the term does and does not mean.
2 thoughts on “Devotional—How Language Puts God in a Box”
While gender discussion nowadays can quickly become very explosive and divisive, your contribution is balanced and helpful. Thank you !
Thanks Nan for stressing the relationship we now are given with God, who is Love and who wills us to share in His Divine Nature Thru Jesus Christ our New Creation, who made us All One in Himself!