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    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.

    proposalInterestingly 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.

    25 Comments

    1. While it is certainly true that the Divine Nature is neither male nor female, it is absolutely false to say that the Divine Nature is neither masculine nor feminine (i.e. “neither he nor she except perhaps by convention”). The former terms refer to anatomy, whereas the latter terms refer to ontology.

      God is not called “He” merely by convention or because that is a more beautiful analogy, but because God IS masculine in the fullest sense of the word; He is the One Who gives life, and Who espouses Himself to souls. In traditional Catholic literature, the soul is always referred to as “she,” since all souls are “she” compared to God, the true and ultimate Masculine being.

      Now, obviously no term applies univocally to both God and creatures (Sum I,q13,a5). So in that sense, sure, God is neither “he” nor “she,” neither “masculine” nor “feminine.” But in that sense God is also not “love.” So that is an invalid argument for saying that God is neither masculine nor feminine.

      The in depth study of Trinitarian theology reveals this even further. The Trinity is best compared to generation as in a human family. In a human family the father is the active principle, the mother the passive principle, and the child is the offspring. But as there is no passive principle in God (since He is pure act and no potency), then it is blasphemous to refer to him as “she” or “mother,” (again, not just against convention or a less beautiful metaphor).

      I would highly recommend the Summa’s treatment of the Trinity, as well as C.S. Lewis’ “Joyful Cosmology.”

      In Christ, through Mary,
      Daniel

      • I actually didn’t say that God isn’t masculine or feminine. In fact, I said twice that he contains within himself the fullness of both masculinity and femininity. What’s the alternative? Masculinity and femininity clearly exist in the world, but if femininity were not also fully within God’s essence, it would exist apart from God, which is impossible for anything to do.

        Aside from that, I think we’re kind of saying the same thing. The analogy of a proposal works as an analogy, not an argument. What is illustrated both in the analogy and your argument is, as you put it, “He is pure act and no potency.” God is the lover, the initiator, the generator. You’ve simply taken the proposal analogy further down the line into the family structure, which is great when talking about the Trinity, though that’s not the topic of this post.

        • I just want to be sure to alert everyone of the danger of falling into the trap of thinking that God is “no moreso he than she.” Of course God contains within Himself the fullness of all that is good in creation (and indeed femininity is a great good), but that does not mean we can ascribe all things to Him equally.

          For example, God indeed has just anger, and that is a great good. And insofar as God contains within Himself the fullness of all that is good (and indeed the His nature is identical to all of His attributes), then we might be tempted to go so far as to say “God is Anger.” But that would be wrong to say. We must instead say “God is Love.”

          • Male or feMALE we are all huMAN. Man and woMAN. God as the Creator possesses everything, He is ALL in ALL. If you make a car does that mean you are a car ? God is the Infinite One the Alpha and Omega, No beginning and no end. So why the question is He male or female, ish or isha in Hebrew. He is THE ALL-KNOWING, ALMIGHTY Father, Son, Spirit. He knows what it is to be a Mother for He especially made one for Him to become human in His Son Jesus, the Word became flesh.

        • Wayne Tedeschi /

          God is a He, the Father is a he, the Son is a He, and the Holy Spirit is a He. All Angels are He’s. The only reason why we have women (she’s) is to procreate. To call God a she is blasphemy. To say that men have a feminine side is foolish and stupid. God is the source of all life, and He created man in His own image and likeness. So the man gives life to the woman through his sperm to make babies. Not only that but “woman” actually means “from man”. This is not to take anything away from the woman because they are responsible for the nurturing of all of humanity. The only reason why we have this discussion is because of the feminist occult which wants to destroy humanity.

        • bob smith /

          Jesus Christ taught us to pray the ‘Our Father’. (His words) A Father is a He. End of story.

      • bob smith /

        I agree. Someone gave me a Christmas card this Christmas and kept referring to God as ‘She’. I think they did it on purpose because they knew it would annoy me. Do you know of any books grounded in tradition that speak about the reasons we call God ‘He’? I also find it to be blasphemous to call God ‘She’ and would like to be able to defend myself if it ever comes up again.

    2. That is why he gave us Mary. To have a Mother to relate to. He knew that we would need her because of our perception of life. Before Mary there was Eve, whom perfection was lost. Through Mary Motherly perfection was regained and made full again.

    3. El Gato /

      This reminds me of the argument against the three persons. Some people think that since God is One, he cannot be multiple. Well, I, myself, am one person, but I also contain multiple, let’s say aspects, of that person. I am a son. I am a father, I am a husband, employee, etc. Woe be to me if I get any of these aspects confused and talk to my boss like I talk to my children, etc.

    4. Juan Oskar /

      I’ve never worried about why ‘God is a He’… He just Is. ;)

    5. This can be a concern for women who may have been sexually abused by men, for example. They are justifiable uncomfortable with the image of God the Father that predominates through Scripture, and their capacity for intimacy with God, which is what God wants of us, after all, and the healing power of that experience, is compromised. The OT Book of Wisdom provides a bridge over those troubled waters, where the Divine Wisdom is portrayed strictly female. Also, the work of such theologians as Elizabeth Johnson, and others has done a great deal to correct misperceptions of God as exclusively male.

      • While that’s true, I think we should avoid works by Elizabeth Johnson. She’s not faithful to Church doctrine.

        The trouble is, God as male is a communication device, not a metaphysical statement. We – male and female – reflect His attributes, not the other way around. If we’d get that through our heads, the idea of God as male wouldn’t be remotely offensive.

        Lastly, it’s amazing to me that liberal theologians want to call God female when He calls Himself male, but insist we call humans by whatever gender pronoun they choose.

      • My wife, who was abused by her father in her youth — a man who was in my experience, from the time I met him until his death two years after I married his daughter, a rather abusive personality — can’t understand why women feel the need to emasculate the image of God. God is father. What is wrong with that? For my wife, God is the image of the father she never had. She’s very comfortable with that.

    6. Emmanuel Shonde /

      It is only an Ancient Culture that made God to be refered a father and take a masculine part. Look, even when he desided to live and stay with people, the 2nd person of trinity came, and appeared as a man(Son).

    7. Aunt Raven /

      The Holy Spirit (Divine Love uniting Father and Son) is, curiously, referred to as “Father of the Poor” and “Spouse of the Virgin Mother Mary” and “Soul of the Church” . Useful and mysterious to ponder.
      I suppose this is because the Trinity is Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier [active] and we –regardless of gender– are created, redeemed, and made holy [passive.]

    8. Recusant /

      What has always bothered me about the feminist argument is that the feminists view God as a pathetic weakling.

      They argue that God could not impress himself upon the Jews except in masculine guise, and yet fail to see how amazingly silly such a statement really is.

      To begin with, God created us. What stopped God from making all of mankind parthenogenetic, or hermaphroditic, or oviparous? To suggest that such was beyond his power or an unintentional coincidence is to state that God is, in fact, not God.

      Compounding this, is that there is no reason that God had to choose Abraham to found a misogynistic nation. He could easily have chosen a far more “open-minded” matriarchy, and yet he did not.

    9. Patrick Felice /

      I know who God is. For me He is pure Love. I want to just love Him. He has given me so much, he has suffered so much. I am just a creature He has created from nothing out of love. No one has suffered so much for my sake as He has. We are all sinful creatures, even so He loves us. Let us just love Him for what He has done for us. When I see Him I will know who He is and I have all eternity to study and love Him. Peace

    10. Jim Chude /

      In the Annunciation, our Blessed Mother conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. If God was female, that would mean than a female overshadowed a female. Isn’t that sodomy? In my copy of the Daughters of St. Paul’s Outlines of the Catholic Faith, sodomy is listed along with murder as sins that “cry out to Heaven.” Why would God do such a thing?

    11. Uh, aren’t we overlooking something? One of the main missions of Jesus, the Eternal Word of God made flesh, was to reveal God as Father to us. He is the visible image of the invisible God. Philip to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father”. Jesus replied, “Philip, if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. I and the Father are one.” Any fair reading of the New Testament makes it clear that God is Father, Abba (and with the Son and Holy Spirit – one God, Three Persons, coequally one God). This truth is hidden in the Old Testament, and revealed in the New.

    12. Barbara /

      I had a very vindictive mother and was terribly abused in a support group by treacherous women, so I am just absolutely grateful that God is not a woman. Yippeeee!

    13. When we get beyond the understanding of “masculine” and “feminine” as purely human realities, then it is possible to see these expressions of the human person more as they are and have been intended by our Blessed Lord and Benevolent Creator. As metaphysics allows for our knowing, “being” cannot both “be” and “not be” at the same time, in the same respect. That understood, God as Supreme Being, is either predominately masculine or feminine, as He cannot both be masculine and not be masculine at the same time and in the same respect. That said, we know that “all time” is present to Almighty God, as “time”, as “being”, is His creation. As He remains fully apart from His Creation, we cannot somehow claim Him to “have” within His Being, “all aspects” of masculinity and femininity. That understanding would suggest that God somehow can only create that which is the essence of Him, as He reveals Himself to us, and we know through God’s lesser creation, that specific understanding is not true, ie. a rock is not the essence of God.
      At the deepest understanding, we remain forever, in our essence, a part of Who He Is. Otherwise stated, He is not of us, we are of Him, as He told us that we are created in His Own Divine Likeness and Image, our eternal souls, as intellect and free will. We human persons, as intellect and free will, express ourselves according to God’s Will. That expression is either dominant masculine or dominant feminine, the giver and the receiver. As masculinity “leads” and femininity “nurtures” predominately, does not suggest that each is completely exclusive of the other. Human personhood remains far beyond the understandings of “masculinity” and “femininity” which allows for our “complementarity”. The masculine and the feminine can be understood as filters through which we view the world, ordered by God. A filter does not somehow generate that which it filters, it simply reflects the generation in a specific light or lights.

      May Almighty God bless you and keep you, all the days of your life.

      Mark

    14. I am astounded that these theologians and anyone else who thinks they know the bible can say God is not a man.

      Are these people calling Jesus a liar. He not only referred to God as His Father; but taught us the Lords prayer. The prayer starts with “Our Father, Who art in Heaven.”

      Protestants refer to God as a ‘which’ in the Lords prayer probable because He is a Pure Spirit and they must feel spirits don’t have genders.

      I would rather rely on Jesus and His Apostles testimonies, who always referred to God as Father (understood to be male).

      Father, Son and Holy Spirit are one. I don’t understand the mystery of the Blessed Trinity; but I do believe, I have a human body which houses my immortal soul, and I believe the life in my soul is the spirit I cling to, ie God’s Holy Spirit, or the spirit of the rebellious one. This I feel is the clue as to whither we are going up to Heaven or down to hell once our souls are separated from our bodies in death.

    15. Jesus always referred to God as His Father, such as in The Lord,s prayer “Our FATHER who art in heaven..” So, if Jesus called God Father we should also. “Nuff” said. End of argument.

    16. Sixtus /

      Why is Almighty God the Almighty God? Ready? BECAUSE HE IS!

    17. Jim M. /

      Do you not believe that the Bible is the word if God? You might want to start with Genesis, where God created man in His image and then created woman from man.