God as Father: The maleness of God

D. T. Williams
1990 Koers : Bulletin for Christian Scholarship  
It is fashionable today to try to avoid sexist language in theology, despite the Bible' s consistent use of the masculine pronoun when referring to God. Although such an attempt has largely been engendered by modem culture, the maleness of God is not simply a hangover from a patriarchal society, but reflects a fundamental maleness in God' s dealing with man. It emphasises the idea of redemption by grace alone over against creation, and such aspects as the adoption of Christians as sons. The
more » ... ness of Christ likewise has not simply been cultural, but is sipiificant theologically. This is not to deny any femininity in God, but to assert that male features predominate. Such an idea does not reduce the status of women, but rather an emphasis on redemption raises it. Raising the status of women in society would in fact reduce the pressure to demasculinize God. I should at the outset note the special problem of the personal pronoun when referring to God. I think it is obvious to all that God is not a male deity as opposed to a female deity. God is beyond and includes our distinctions of sexuality. As long ago as the 14th century, Juliana of Norwich declared, "As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother* (Foster, 1987:ix). F o ster is apologizing for sexist language, which in m odern theological w riting is forbidden, believing, how ever, th at a co rrect usage is "semantically awkward and Koers 55(2) 1990:259-275 259 God as Father: the maleness o f God aesthetically abhorrent" as well as failing to express God's greatness. Quere (1985:13) here makes an interesting suggestion. As language pertaining to God must be in a unique sense, a return to capitalizing the pronoun, would both remind the reader of this and be grammatically satisfactory. The maleness o f God is, however, as is now fashionable, denied. Such a denial has two roots. Firstly it is felt that as God does not reproduce as we do, H e cannot exhibit sexuality. However, as will become clear, sexuality involves more than the ability to reproduce, and some of these aspects are indeed characteristic of God. Secondly, it is felt that ascribing maleness to God was due to the superiority of the male in pre-modem and especially Biblical culture. As modern culture is more enlightened about recognising the equality of the sexes, so the maleness of God is an anachronism which should be disposed of. It will be seen, however, that the Biblical maleness of God had a deeper root than culture, and moreover, that the equality o f the sexes is not so much hindered by the maleness of God as supported by it. Biblical culture In Biblical times, so it is asserted, there was no questioning of the supremacy o f the male. Probably going back to primitive times when sheer strength was vital, the male was dominant, and so society was patriarchal. An alternative modern explanation is basically similar, but sees the origin of the maleness of the deity in a Freudian analysis (e.g. Hamerton-Kelly, 1979).1 It would have been unthinkable therefore to refer to God as female. Kings and priests were also male. However, Biblical culture, and particularly Old Testament culture, was not so monolithically male-dominated (cf. also Hamerton-Kelly, 1979:7). Even in the monarchy, the queen mother had power, and occasionally absolute power, although only when there was no king. The culture was not rigidly male, yet God is consistently referred to as male. Rather, the maleness of God is emphasized in Israel not because of a cultural pattern, but as a contrast to the surrounding theologies (cf. Bloesch, 1985:39). Israel, after occupying Canaan, was always under threat from the local gods and had to assert distinctiveness. Emphatically, a major aspect of the local religion involved sexuality, which could be perceived as a threat to a very different concept of God. On the one 1 1 tend not to find explanation here for the existence of matriarchal societies, which are by no means that rare. 260 Koers 55(2) 1990:259-275 D.T. Williams hand, the Baalim were male, with the concurrent ideas of power, victory in war and so on, but they are always seen in conjunction with the Astaroth, the females, and it is the union of the two, guaranteeing fertility of women, animals and the land, which is funda mental to Canaanite religion, and utterly rejected by Israel.
doi:10.4102/koers.v55i1-4.978 fatcat:gcnmk2ktafbttmj5bmid477cwy