One of the hottest controversies today about God concerns the traditional exclusive use of the pronoun he. Nearly all Christians admit that (1) God is not literally male, since he has no biological body, and (2) women are not essentially inferior to men. Those are red herrings.
There are, however, two reasons for defending the exclusive use of masculine pronouns and imagery for God. One issue is whether we have the authority to change the names of God used by Christ, the Bible and the Church. The traditional defense of masculine imagery for God rests on the premise that the Bible is divine revelation, not culturally relative, negotiable and changeable. As C. S. Lewis put it, “Christians believe God himself has told us how to speak of him.”
The other reason for calling God “he” is historical. Except for Judaism, all other known ancient religions had goddesses as well as gods. 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 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 three biblical or Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam): 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.
c/f Christian Apologetics -Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli
Categories: Defending the Faith, Theology
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