Sunday, March 16, 2014

G2. Is God a guy?

This is my second post expanding on my theology in bullet points. I started with the God section. Last Sunday's post was God didn't need to create.

This Sunday the post is, "Is God a guy?"
Is God a guy, a male?  For that matter, is God three guys: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?

The short answer is, "No, God does not have any genitals." That's what it literally means to be a guy, to have certain physical features, caused by a certain underlying DNA.

A lot of people don't understand the word literally in this context. In everyday speech, people use the word literally when what they mean is really. "He 'literally' went through the roof"?

I doubt it. Anyone who literally goes through the roof will die from the head injury alone, unless they're Superman. This is a figure of speech. What a person means is something like, "He really went through the roof." And what he literally did was get very angry.

"Literally" means that you are using words in their normal, everyday sense. When you say that someone is a male, you mean they have certain genitalia and a certain underlying DNA, neither of which God has. The Canaanites thought of their gods in this way. Their gods had sexual organs and could produce offspring, just like the gods of other nations.

Some inscriptions indicate that some Israelites did think of Yahweh as literally masculine, so much so that they made Asherah into his wife! [1] But clearly the Old Testament itself rejects this view of God in the strongest of terms. This is something very important to remember. To think of God as literally masculine is to head in the direction of the Ba'al cults against which Elijah so vigorously fought!

The initial response of some at this point is to say that we have not defined the word literal correctly, that God should be the standard of what is literal. Accordingly, someone might say that, whatever literal maleness is, it is a characteristic of God, not of genitalia. [2]

But what would this ideal, Platonic maleness be, then? It would have to be some non-physical characteristic of which all men partake but no woman does. What is such a characteristic? Leadership ability? There are women who are better leaders than men and men who are poor leaders. In the end, there is no non-physical characteristic that all men have and no women do.

In a last ditch attempt, someone might still try to hold on to the idea by entering damnable territory. They might say that some men are really women and some women are really men. But does Judges condemn Deborah for leading Israel into battle or does Acts object to Priscilla correcting Apollos' misunderstanding? Indeed, does Mark call Jesus a woman for letting the Romans beat him and kill him on a cross?

No, this slight of hand is but a last ditch attempt to defend an untenable view. Literally, God the Father is neither male nor female. Literally, the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female. Only Jesus was literally male while he was on earth, and only then in his humanity. Before he came to earth and took on our flesh, God the Son was, literally, neither male nor female. I will refrain from speculating whether our resurrection bodies distinguish gender and, thus, whether Jesus is still literally male in some way (cf. Mark 12:25).

It should thus be clear that, while I more often use masculine pronouns to refer to God, I do so only because of how offensive some find female pronouns, and to use the impersonal "it" would be truly problematic. True, God has primarily revealed Godself by way of masculine imagery. But the Bible does use feminine imagery of God from time to time, such as in Isaiah 42:14, where God compares himself to a woman in childbirth. Jesus compares himself to a female hen in Matthew 23:37. More could be mentioned. [3]

But, literally, God is neither male nor female. All such language merely aims to give us analogies by which we can get a glimpse of what God is like. Since the cultures of the Bible were patriarchal and male-oriented, it is no surprise that God revealed Godself in masculine terms when God wanted to reveal God's authority and leadership.

But we must differentiate the form of such revelation from the substance. The point was not that God is male (let alone literally male) or that men are more like God than women. The point was to illustrate what God is like by using the analogy of something to which the biblical audiences could relate. God is also "man" enough to use female imagery as illustration too.

Why did God come to earth as a male? Given the creation, it made sense to pick one. Given the time and place to which he came, we shouldn't be surprised that he would pick a male body. Could he have come to earth as a woman? It is hard to think of any serious theological argument to the contrary. After all, he died for everyone, both male and female. What is crucial is that he became human, not the specific gender of his humanness.

Is God a guy?  Not literally. God has no literal gender, although from time to time God has used both masculine and feminine imagery to reveal Godself by analogy.

Next Sunday: "G3. God can do whatever he wants."

[1] Cf., for example, William G. Dever, Did God Have a Wife? Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israel (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

[2] This view is really just another attempt to redefine the word "literal" as meaning "true."

[3] E.g., Num. 11:12; Deut. 32:18; Ps. 22:9; Isa. 49:15; Hos. 13:8.


Ken Schenck said...

Some authors that have been referenced in Facebook discussion are Judith Baxter (perhaps Positioning Gender and Simone de Beauvoir's Second Sex.

David Drury said...

Nice work here.
Saved this for some writing i'm going to do on this subject before I turn 50


Martin LaBar said...