I have just finished the ms for my book for 15-17 year olds – its 52 questions from teenagers all over the world – each one answered with a bible passage, text, commentary, discussion questions. recommended further reading and a prayer. One of the articles has already been published by Premier Christianity’s Youth Work magazine. This is it below. I have also added in the other elements so that you can get a feel for the whole book which I hope will be published later in the year.
Question: What Gender is God?
Bible Reading: Numbers 23:1-26
Text: God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19).
You may have noticed that there is a great deal of confusion about what gender is today. The notion that human gender consisted of male and female, which was based upon biological, social and cultural differences, is now being replaced (at least in the influential areas of our society) with the view that gender is just a social construct (i.e. something made up by society), and that there can be many more genders.
What does the Bible say? It clearly teaches that human beings are made male and female. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. “ (Genesis 1:27). But notice that this verse also tells us that all human beings, male and female, are made in the image of God. So does this mean that God is both male and female? It can get very confusing. Consider the following:
The language used for God in the Bible is that of a male. It is God the Father. God is not ‘it’, He is a He! In an age when we are told to respect the pronouns that people wish to be used, perhaps it would be a good idea for us to use the personal pronouns that God has revealed himself with? Its not good for us to change the language we use about God to suit our culture or the fashions of the day. If we do so we will soon end up just creating not language but a God in our own image.
But that does not mean that God is male. Why not? One reason is that sometimes in the Bible female analogies and language are used of God. For example in Isaiah 66:13, God is spoken of as a mother – As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.
But the main reason is that male and female are terms that are used for human beings – not for God. Despite all the caricatures God is not some kind of superhuman or old man up in the sky. This is of course hard for us to understand and so our temptation is always to try and create a God in our own image. But the Bible gives us a different picture. One of the great Confessions of the Christian Church puts it this way-
““ There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions,” (The Westminster Confession of Faith).
Without body, parts or passions…in other words the things that make gender. So in that sense God is genderless.
We also need to beware of the heresy of teaching that the Trinity is like a human family – God the Father, the Holy Spirit the mother and Jesus the son. That is to read back into the Bible a 21st century concept of the family and again create a God in our own image. The Holy Spirit is not an ‘it’, nor a ‘she’. When Jesus speaks of the Spirit he uses the male pronoun.
In all of this it is important that we recognise two things. Firstly it is hard for us, if not impossible for us to conceive of God adequately. We need him to reveal himself to us. And he has done that in the Bible. So it is always best for us to stick with the ‘revelation’ that God has given us of himself.
Secondly we understand God as he is revealed in Jesus. Hebrews 1 tells us that he is the exact representation of his being. When we look at Jesus we see what God is like. Jesus came as a male human being, but his incarnation (God becoming flesh) is for all of us.
Perhaps sometimes we over emphasise the differences between men and women – as though we are from different planets. We are all made in the image of God. Not in terms of gender but we are logical beings, we are moral beings and we are holy beings. I wouldn’t worry too much about the gender of God – to do so is to misunderstand who he is. The more important thing is to know God through Christ, and thus enable all of us, whatever our gender, to be better and renewed human beings.
Consider: Why is it important to keep with the language of the Bible? What are the dangers with seeking to change the Bible so that it fits our culture? What are the practical implications of knowing that all men and all women are made in the image of God?
Recommended Further Reading: Knowing God – J I Packer
Prayer: O Lord our God, we bless you that you have revealed yourself to us through your name. We bless you that you are Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We thank you that all human beings, male or female, are made in your image. Enable us to know you and love you, in Jesus name. Amen