Issue #276 / February 2024

Why are you so convinced God is a He?

LINDA, ESSENDON, AUSTRALIA

Dear Linda,

A number of you have taken issue with my personifying of God as a He, following my reply to the letter from Brian, the pissed-off sewerage worker from New York (Issue #275).

There is not a great deal I can say about this other than, if God exists, the last thing anyone really thinks is that He is an actual man (although it would be perversely cool if God truly was an old man with a beard who lives in the sky), but nor is God an actual woman, or any other transmutation of this most mysterious, baffling and abstract of ideas.

In those moments when I speak of God, I am not speaking of a vague and airy ‘spiritual’ force, rather I am speaking of the God of the Bible. In the Bible, God is represented as a man – God, the Father. I understand that for some this instantly jettisons the Bible, and everything in it, to some swampy, anachronistic backwater, but it is still worth pointing out that if we are searching for problematic things about the God of the Bible, being a man would be the least of them. Considering his penchant for genocide, women should feel relieved He does not represent their gender. In fact, it kind of makes sense that God is a man – give us some power and wiping out entire nations, on a whim, is the kind of thing we guys do.

Still, the Bible is a book I love dearly, and read regularly – an ancient book of astonishing beauty and deep instruction. It is a sacred book which I approach with respect and humility and I do not feel it is my place to refashion its most basic claims in order to be down with the times. I am drawn to the Bible for the same reason I am drawn to the church – because it sits outside of this temporal moment (or at least it should) whilst reflecting deeply upon it.

At the church I attend we close with the Angelus that places Mary, the female archetype of the sorrowing mother, at the emotional climax of the Christian liturgy, something we are left to reflect upon as we leave the church and go about our day. It is ultimately the woman, the mother, we praise and call to –

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

– words that, to me, are of unimaginable clarity and beauty. It is womanhood that we cherish, the bereaved mother who we exalt and who we connect to.

God is an unnamable and incomprehensible abstraction, and we wrestle with the inadequacies of our language to give this abstraction form. Mary, on the other hand, is as real and as excruciatingly affecting as any concept can be, which is why in many ways she reigns supreme within the Western religious imagination. God is a He because the Bible tells us so, but the gospels themselves flow with a subterranean and incandescent female energy, a spirit of love and suffering and yearning, relatable and almost unbearably true, upon which we rehearse our own sorrows.

Linda, I hope this goes some way to clearing up this issue. Yours was by far the most civil and least volatile ‘question’ I received on the matter and I thank you for that.

Love, Nick

 

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