Why is God a “He?”
Like most people, I went through a Bobby McFerrin phase (wait, you didn’t?) during which I discovered his rendition of Psalm 23. I genuinely enjoyed the song and yet was unaware of McFerrin’s usage of “she” throughout the verses, due largely to the poor audio quality of mp3s around the turn of the century – I thought it was just fuzz. In spite of this, I could not escape the Gloria at the end, when he sings:
Glory to the Mother,
And the Daughter,
And the Holy of Holies.
Even typing that out makes me feel like I need to wash my hands…
I’ve encountered people here and there who might refer to God in the feminine form or call him Gaia, which is some sort of female earth goddess (depending on who you ask). This is a bit more glaring than a priest editing out every “he” and “him” from the passion narrative on Palm Sunday or others trying to be inclusive by adding an, “and women” to Jesus’s call to be fishers of men – or to the occasional Eucharistic prayer. But why does it matter in the first place? Why is God referred to in the masculine throughout theology and scripture?
I’m sure reasons for the gender-switch vary greatly. Women have been getting the shaft for too long, so I’m just going to do it; In the ancient world, God needed to be male or else the Jews wouldn’t have taken him seriously; God is neither masculine or feminine, but contains the fullness of both, so it doesn’t matter if I refer to her as female.
Interestingly enough, the basis for last argument is true and stands as the most theologically sound that I’ve encountered. In spite of our understand of God containing both masculinity and femininity, the masculine preference persists and for good reason. We are, of course, discussing what we call God, which is simply one aspect of a relationship. So we have to ask, what is the masculine role in a relationship?
The roles and desire between a man and woman are reciprocal.* A man wants to love so that he can be loved in return; he prepares to propose to his beloved, hears about the desired ring from her best friend, buys the ring, takes it back when she changes her mind on the cut (no, this didn’t happen to me. Really. No, really), picks the time and place. When all of the conditions have been met and the time is right, he kneels before her and taking his life and future in his hands, presents all that he is to her. Why does he offer such profound love? For the sole desire that it will be reciprocated. The woman, on the other hand, is enormously happy that her beau has finally proposed, as she has been waiting for this moment her entire life. Why has she been waiting instead taking the world by the horns and making the proposal? A woman wants to be loved so that she can love in return. So she says, yes.
If the Bible is a story about God and his people, a love story between the two, who is the initiator of the loving relationship? The answer is God, whose love is all-encompassing and He who wants to be loved in return. Does that make us all feminine? No, since we are actually either masculine or feminine, but it speaks to our role in relation to God’s love; we must recognize God’s love for us so that we can love him in return.
*It’s been a while since I’ve read it, but I believe this concept largely comes from JPII’s Love and Responsibility.