With Mother’s Day being celebrated last Sunday, I saw one of my favorite theological satire FB pages, Unvirtuous Abbey, post the following status, “For churches who celebrate Mother’s Day but not God as the Mother of All.” I read it. I chuckled. If God is neither male nor female… Why do some people get so offended when God is referred to as Mother or any other female pronoun?
Let’s start off by debunking some Spoon-Fed Pop-Culture Theology, because… well… because I like debunking Spoon-Fed Pop-Culture Theology. While I was growing up, I was told that God was referred to as male because of the patriarchal system of the day. This is a common teaching, in fact, teaching materials are created to populate this view, such as this one. However, patriarchy isn’t the reason for male pronouns in reference to God, so let’s just throw that little theory out in the trash!
But that does leave a question in our minds: is there a specific reason that God is referred to as a male? Yes. Yes, there is. And this reason is called, polytheism. What does that mean? Well, let’s break the word down, because that’s really the easiest way to understand theological words.
Smack dab in the middle of the world, polytheism, we see the root word, ‘the’, and ‘the’ means ‘god’. For example, theology, is the study of God. Next, we have the prefix ‘poly’ which means—MANY (as in a polygon); as opposed to the word ‘mono’ which means—ONE (as in monochromatic). The suffix ‘ism’ takes a noun and makes it into an action or practice, such as baptism. So therefore…
Polytheism means—a belief in MANY GODS
…as opposed to…
Monotheism—a belief in ONE GOD
So, how in the world are polytheism and male pronouns connected?
Hey, thanks for asking! Let me explain…
According to “Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch” in Near Ancient Asia, back in historical days, back when the first books of The Bible were being written, polytheism was extremely popular. Several belief systems included polytheism, such as the religious beliefs in the cultures of the Canaanites and the Egyptians. Polytheism typically had several gods and goddesses that reproduced (which makes me picture polytheistic sex education sounding a bit like this: when a daddy god and a mommy goddess love each other very much…) Also, there were times when mere humans were viewed as gods in their earthly life and/or in the afterlife which also caused reproduction of gods in polytheism too. For example, the Pharaoh in Egypt and the Roman emperor were both considered gods.
According to “Dictionary of the Old Testament: Pentateuch”, in the belief of polytheism, goddesses were closely related to two major ideas: 1.) sexuality and 2.) creation/earth. So why was Yahweh referred to as male? First of all, so God would be portrayed as asexual. Secondly, God is holy, but humanity is unholy, and to make Yahweh a female, these two things could not exist separately. A goddess would have to be holy and so would her creation, or she would have to be portrayed as unholy and so would her creation. Think of it like this: a pregnant mother cannot eat ice cream and give her baby the nutrients of carrots. If the mother eats ice cream, her unborn child receives the same nutrients of the ice cream. (And all the expectant mothers reading this said, “oh darn!”) Therefore, to keep God true to His persons and character as holy, and to keep humanity true to our person and character as unholy, God was best described in male pronouns.
So, there you have it. This is why God is described in male pronouns.
But why do people today become upset or insist on Yahweh being referred to in male pronouns? Honestly, it can sometimes be a patriarchal view and the fear that if God is referred to as a woman that would make Yahweh weak, but that is not the only case. There are other reasons as well. For example, sometimes, it’s as simple as being creatures of habit. We have always referred to God as male, and so… well, it sort of stuck. Sometimes, people feel that to use female pronouns seems too close to New Age, Mother Earth, or other false/questionable beliefs we want to set Yahweh a part from. Other times it can be a matter of staying consistent with The Bible. And there may be other reasons as well.
The important thing is to know that it is just as accurate to call Yahweh male as it is to call Yahweh female, since Yahweh is neither. Yahweh is genderless. And if you watched the video I linked above, you probably noted that in The Bible God isn’t strictly only described in the male perspective/pronoun.
So, can we preach about Yahweh being Mother to all and be theologically sound? Yes, just as much as we can preach about Yahweh being Father to all and be theologically sound.