God our Mother.

by K.W. Leslie, 05 February

Our hangups about gender get in the way of understanding the Almighty.

Years ago I observed a rather heated discussion between two people about which pronoun to use for the Holy Spirit.

See, when people don’t know the Holy Spirit, they tend to refer to him as “it”—they think he’s a force, or God’s power, or otherwise don‘t realize he’s a person. The Greek word for spirit, πνεῦμα/néfma, isn’t much help in making this determination: In English nearly all our nouns are neuter, but in nearly every other language they’re not; they’re either masculine or feminine. Well, Greek has masculine, feminine, and neuter… and néfma is neuter. The writers of the New Testament didn’t try to masculinize it either, and turn it into πνεῦμος/néfmos or give it masculine noun-markers like πνεῦμα/o néfma, “the [he]-Spirit.” Nope, they went with the usual πνεῦμα ἅγιον/Néfma Ághion, “Holy Spirit”; τὸ πνεῦμα τοῦ θεοῦ, “God’s Spirit”—both neuter. Every reference to the Spirit in the NT is neuter.

But in the Old Testament, the Hebrew for spirit, רוּחַ/ruákh, is feminine.

I once heard a pastor claim the Old Testament noun might be feminine, and the New Testament noun might be neuter, but the writers of the NT treated néfma, whenever it meant the Holy Spirit, as if it’s a masculine noun. I thought that was interesting. Repeated the statement myself a few times. Then I took Greek in college and discovered it’s not so. (Would’ve been nice too: There are certain bits of Paul’s letters where it’s hard to tell whether he means our spirit or the Spirit, and if he always used masculine markers for the Holy Spirit, it’d make interpretation so much easier. But he didn’t.) Don’t know where this pastor got his idea, but it’s utterly bogus.

Because néfma is neuter, I gradually got in the habit of using neuter pronouns when I refer to spirits. After all, spirits are immaterial and have no gender: They’ve no chromosomes, no “plumbing,” so to speak; they’re not meant to breed nor marry. They’re neuter. So when an angel appears in the bible, I tend to call it “it.” That includes Satan. In fact an exorcist I met pointed out evil spirits certainly tend to act like unthinking animals rather than rational beings. So he naturally grew to refer to evil spirits as “it.” Sounds about right to me.

But because the Spirit’s name in Hebrew, רוּחַ־קֹ֖דֶשׁ/Ruákh-Qodéš (or as Christians who don’t know Hebrew tend to call him, רוּחַ הַקֹּ֜דֶשׁ/Ruákh haQodéš) is feminine, there are a growing number of Christians who refer to the Spirit as “she.”

Bear in mind it’s only by custom we refer to the Spirit as “he.” God is spirit, Jn 4.24 and before he became human, he had no DNA, no plumbing, which defined his gender. The LORD is “he” only because his self-chosen name, אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה/Ehyéh Ašer Ehyéh (KJV “I AM THAT I AMEx 3.14), means he defines himself—and went with the pronouns “he” and “him” and “his,” or their equivalents in the bible’s languages. He describes himself, and Jesus describes him, as Father. Stands to reason “he” would be the pronoun for every person in the trinity, right?

But customs aren’t bible, and the Spirit of God is “she” throughout the Old Testament. So these Christians feel entirely justified in calling the Spirit “she.”

And this practice totally freaks out certain other Christians. Sexists in particular.

Deliberately provocative, I know.

For non-sexists, they’re weirded out because they simply never thought of God as “she.” It’s not common Christian practice.

Y’know who it is common among? Pagans. Some of ’em like to refer to God as “she” purely to annoy Christians. Others because they figure they get to invent a religion which suits them best, and it’s way easier for them to imagine the Creator as female, so that’s how they choose to picture God. And still others because they’ve adopted a pagan religion with female gods in it, and they prefer the goddesses. Fr’instance Wiccans have two gods: A god and goddess. But just about every female Wiccan I’ve met prays near-exclusively to the goddess. Because they quit male gods when they left Christianity.

So when a person starts calling God “she,” many a Christian is gonna suspect they might be speaking to a pagan who thinks they’re Christian. There are way too many of ’em in our churches, and their theology is super confusing, and frequently heretic—because as pagans they still figure they get to invent a version of Christianity which suits them best. Hopefully the Holy Spirit will correct ’em.

Non-sexists are also gonna consider the bibles we grew up with. Not a one of the reputable bible translations refer to God the Holy Spirit as “she.” Not even the gender-inclusive bibles—they all say “he.” Every last one of them takes the Hebrew word ruákh and its feminine pronouns and verbs, and makes ’em masculine to suit Christian custom.

And y’know, God had plenty of opportunities to tell us in the scriptures how he created male and female, Ge 1.27 while he himself is neither. But he didn’t do so. Didn’t see it as important. So why are we suddenly bringing this up? What’s our hidden agenda in starting to refer to the Spirit as “she”? Or referring to the LORD as capital-S “She”? Are we dabbling into the pagan choose-your-own-religion business?

Now for the sexists.

You’ll recognize them by the way they insist certain human behaviors, traits, tendencies, and interests are “masculine” and “feminine.” Men do this, women do that; men should never do as women do; women should never do as men do; neither should “blur” the gender roles, which they insist were established by God. Ask ’em where in the bible they got their definitions, and they won’t be able to point to a thing without first seriously twisting scripture. Because really they got it from popular culture. Old popular culture, like the fifties—the eighteen-fifties.

To sexists, their identity is fused together with their gender. Male isn’t just something they are; it’s their οὐσία/usía, their essence, their foundational core. They can’t relate whatsoever to the scriptures which declare there’s no male nor female in Christ. Ga 3.28 They insist God made men and women entirely different, and we need to know our places and stay in ’em. And theirs is on top.

To sexists, masculine traits are good, and proper for men; and feminine traits are bad and should be avoided… but they’re okay for women. The way they talk of “feminine” traits is far too much like when you speak of old food you find in the refrigerator: “This lunchmeat smells wrong… No, don‘t eat it. But yeah, you can go ahead and give it to the dog. It’s fit for animals.”)

The “masculine” traits are ones they value. But it’s not enough to merely have them; they have to justify them, in case anyone objects to them in any way. They wanna claim they’re normal, and base “normal” on their preferences rather than find out what’s truly normal—or, more importantly, what God values. Far easier to take our personalities and claim, “I was born this way. God made me this way. And everyone should be like me.” Not realize we’re wrong and let the Holy Spirit correct us.

But sexists are comfortable with male privilege, with their false sense of male superiority, with their refusal to submit to fellow Christians, including women; and to the Holy Spirit. Anything which dares to suggest they’re in the wrong, not normal, not in power, and that their masculinity isn’t as close to godliness as they imagine: That’s considered a threat, and their fight-or-flight instinct kicks in. Makes ’em angry and afraid.

Yet according to the scriptures, they’re in the wrong. Other than biological issues such as sexuality, and other than the husband and wife’s respective roles within marriage, the scriptures have two, and only two, gender boundaries.

  • No cross-dressing. Dt 22.5 (Arguably this includes whether women oughta cover up.)
  • Women can’t be priests in the Hebrew religion. (But in the Christian religion, they already are.)

Under Christ, gender is otherwise irrelevant. Ge 3.28 How men ought to behave unique from women, and vice-versa, is entirely defined by our culture. Not God. As such it’s entirely open for debate.

Any preachers who insist some roles are for men and others for women, who manipulate bible into supporting the idea, are preaching their own prejudices instead of God’s word. Frequently it’s because they themselves are trying to evade responsibilities they don’t want. Many men preach only women should primarily take care of kids, mainly because they don’t care to shoulder such a huge responsibility. Or they say men should be the primary wage-earners, because they love the supposed power which comes from acquiring money—and the freedom they get by being able to evade household responsibilities in favor of work or “work-related” duties.

Thus far I’ve spoken about male sexists, but there are plenty of women sexists too. Fr’instance lots of women claim only men should ask women out on dates (contrary to Ruth 3.8-11), ostensibly because men should be the leaders in a marital relationship. But really it’s ’cause they’re afraid of rejection. (Those first couple times asking people out, it’s scary!—as every guy knows.) Far easier to sit back, passively experience rejection, and blame men for not stepping up.

The fact these gender roles aren’t the product of loving and serving and submitting to one another, but instead come from prejudice, from evading responsibility, and from seizing authority, should tip us off they’re the result of sin. They’re not about accepting God-assigned roles; that idea comes from Daoism, not Christianity.

So that’s what happened with that internet discussion at the top of this article. One person referred to the Spirit as “she,” and the other flew into a rage and started ranting about gender politics. Derailed the whole discussion.

God transcends gender.

I pitched the question, “Why are we suddenly bringing this up?” above, but didn’t answer it. Now I will.

Many people like the idea of God as a gender-neutral Heavenly Parent because they’ve had really bad experiences with men or fathers. I know exactly where they’re coming from: My dad, my biological father, is not a good parent. He had lousy parents himself, and never thought to do better than they had; he only cares that his kids not embarrass him, and used to beat me up when he imagined I had. If my relationship with the LORD was in any way based on Dad, it’d be a highly dysfunctional relationship. (Heck, I’d probably be atheist like Dad.) Thankfully, I never equated the two: The LORD is my good Father, and Dad’s my messed-up father.

But others have never been able to separate the two. Their fathers were awful, so they expect God the Father is likewise awful. They had to earn their earthly fathers’ love; they expect God works by karma too. They’re gay or transgendered, so their fathers rejected them or can’t deal with them lovingly; they think God has the same hangups (’cause certainly many of his pastors do).

A gender-neutral God sounds so much better to them than a God who’s so very male. Though some of ’em love the idea of God the Mother, and focus intently on all of God’s characteristics which sound “feminine” to them—his grace, his compassion, his nurturing and comfort and encouragement, like a hen taking care of her chicks. Mt 23.37, Lk 13.34 You know, many of the traits the Holy Spirit is known for. That picture of God, they can relate to. Far more than the angry-white-male God which far too many sexists like to lift up.

I get why people want a gender-free or female God: They’re trying to relate to God, and have a hard time doing it ’cause his “masculinity” gets in the way. And y’know, the fact they’re trying to deal with God is better than outright rejection. I’ve met quite a few people who gave up on God altogether, simply because they can’t get past their past. That’s why they quit religion, or got into a religion with goddesses. At least the Christians who call God “she” still recognize Jesus as “her” son, and follow him—and the creeds. It’s weird Christianity, but it’s still Christianity.

And those who interact with such Christians need to recognize they’re in a sensitive place right now. And not be jerks about it.

Taking our culture’s “gender confusion” and applying it to God—or accusing other Christians of inappropriately applying it to God—ultimately has nothing to do with God. It has to do with some very unhealthy attitudes humans have about gender. We’ve projected our unhealthiness onto God. That’s why some of us avoid referring to God as “he”—and others insist everyone must call God “he” or we’re heretic. If we truly understand masculinity and femininity as God does, this’d be a non-issue. We wouldn’t care what people call God; just that they call upon him. The fact we still debate it at all, proves we all have prejudices to get over.

Remember, in order for us to relate to him better, God became what he originally wasn’t: He became human. And if, in order to relate to him better, some people gotta call God “she” from time to time, I can’t imagine God saying, “No; I’m not going that far.” He will—while always staying true to himself—reach down to our level to bring us up to his. It’s not false to refer to the Holy Spirit as “she.” It’s only false if you insist the Spirit therefore can’t be a “he.” Our pronouns have no business limiting an unlimited God.