By Dr. Roger Barrier, Crosswalk.com
Editor's Note: Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople, or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].
I have a question and it should probably go to a pastor. The Bible most commonly refers to God in the masculine. Therefore, many Christians believe he is male. That does bring up one question in my mind, though (and I’m looking for some biblical examples/references). When someone loses their father, they can turn to God the Father. However, how might God the Father heal or help someone who has lost their mother and will live without her for the rest of their life?
You have asked two questions. What does the Bible say about the gender of God? Is God male or female? And how can God comfort you?
God chose to reveal Himself in masculine terms, primarily. God is never described with sexual characteristics in the Scriptures, but He does consistently describe Himself in the masculine gender.
God's Gender Described as Masculine
While God contains all the qualities of both male and female genders, He has chosen to present Himself with an emphasis on masculine qualities of fatherhood, protection, direction, strength, etc. Metaphors used to describe Him in the Bible include: King (Psalms 5:2; 24:8), Father (Isaiah 63:16; 64:8), Judge (Psalms 7:11; 94:2), Husband (Isaiah 54:1; Jeremiah 3:14; 31:32), Master (Malachi 1:6; Colossians 4:1), and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:6; 2 Corinthians 1:3).
Jesus taught his disciples to call God "our Heavenly Father." (Matthew 5:48; 6:14). Therefore, the loving relationship Christ has with the Father from eternity now extends to those adopted into God's family (Romans 8:15). The father-son relationship is the most intimate personal relationship, one marked by reciprocal love and respect, and it is God's supremely personal and loving nature that the term father is meant to underscore.
Feminine Descriptions of God in Scripture
Feminine images are used throughout Scripture to describe God's compassionate and loving nature. Examples include the frequent images of God protecting and comforting his children (Isaiah 66:12–13; Hosea 11:1–4). But it's important to note that God is never addressed as Mother. This phenomenon is unique compared with the cultures surrounding the original biblical writers. Most ancient Near Eastern societies had a goddess as the main cult figure or at least to complement a male god—Asherah in Canaan, Isis in Egypt, Tiamat in Babylon. If patriarchy is responsible for cultures portraying God as male, then we would expect goddess worship to reflect a matriarchal society—one in which women are given superior status or at least are equal to men. But this is not the case. Even today, many societies devoted to goddess worship remain oppressive toward women.
Those who argue that God is feminine usually base their premise on the virgin birth of Jesus. Some theologians and philosophers argue that the birth of Christ implies that Jesus was unique in his genetic makeup. They postulate that males have XY chromosomes, while women have XX chromosomes. Each parent contributes their set of chromosomes to the fetus. Since Jesus was virgin born, they believe He couldn’t have had a Y chromosome. The Spirit, they teach, who is responsible for impregnating Mary, has consistently been understood throughout Scripture as feminine. Both the Hebrew word (ruah) and the Greek word (pneuma) for Spirit are female gendered. They teach that the literal acceptance of Jesus’ virginal conception would conclude he cannot biologically be a male, although he obviously was physically a male as attested to by his crucifixion, and much earlier, his circumcision (Edward L. Kessel, “A Proposed Biological Interpretation of the Virgin Birth,” Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation [September, 1983]).
You also must refer to the prophecy about the virgin birth from God Himself. The angel Gabriel spoke these words to Mary:
“You have found favor in the eyes of God. You will conceive and give birth to a child, and you will call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the son of the Most High. The Lord your God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will forever rule over Jacob’s descendants, his reign will know no end” (Luke 1:26-35).
I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis’ assumption that God is much higher than we imagine and that sexuality has a deeper meaning than we comprehend. For instance, He suggests that God is so masculine that we all are feminine in relation to Him. If this is true, it might explain why the church is referred to as the bride of Christ, though it is composed of both men and women.
Genesis 1:27: “God created humanity in God’s image, in God’s image God created them, male and female God created them.” You can find worth and dignity in the image of God!
You can find comfort in a God of compassion! Psalm 68:5: “A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows is God in his holy dwelling.”
I am so sorry about the loss of your mother. The shortest verse in the Bible is “Jesus wept.” (John 11:35) Jesus didn’t weep for Himself. He knew he would raise Lazarus from the dead. He wept for Mary and Martha in the loss of their beloved brother. When you grieve, God is grieving with you because He loves you.
Dr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his thirty-five-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.