What kind of pronouns should we use when we talk about God?
We typically default to the masculine “He,” but should we?
Is there anything wrong with referring to God as “she”?
While the answer might seem obvious, it is worth considering. After all, as Christians, we want to speak of God in a way that is pleasing to Him. So, here are a few things to keep in mind when considering how to to talk when we talk about God:
1. God is not a man but is spirit (Numbers 23:19a; John 4:24). Simply, human gender does not apply to God. God is neither male nor female. God is spirit and we are wise to remember this, even as we hold to the necessary tension of things like the eternal sonship of Jesus as the second member of the Trinity.[1. See the Chalcedonian Creed]
2. God uses masculine and feminine terms and attributes when describing Himself. God is likened to a “dread warrior” (Jer. 20:11) and a faithful and long-suffering husband (Hosea—all of it!), a “mighty man” and a “woman in labor” (Isaiah 42:13-14). Wisdom is personified in female form (Proverbs 1:20-21). Jesus even emphasizes the feminine when He laments over Jerusalem, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” (Matt. 23:27; Luke 13:34) Without being too reductionistic, God is quite comfortable referring to Himself using or inspiring the use of both feminine and masculine characteristics, even if it makes some of us uncomfortable.[2. Incidentally, my friend Derek Rishmawy offers a helpful look at the “motherliness” of God here.]
3. God reveals Himself as “our Father.” But regardless of God’s comfort with taking on feminine attributes, how does God reveal Himself? As our Father. When Jesus teaches us to pray, He tell us to pray like this, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Seven times in Matthew and Luke, Jesus calls God our “heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:48; 6:14; 6:26; 6:32; 15:13; 18:35; Luke 11:13), and another 17 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke “our Father in heaven” or “our Father who is in heaven.” This is something that’s continued into the epistles, with God being called “Father” at least nine times by Paul and Peter.
This should tell us something very important: While God is very comfortable attributing feminine characteristics to Himself, when He does so, it is typically in the form of a simile—God’s love and longing for His people is like that of a mother hen’s for her chicks. His anguish over sin is like that of a woman in labor. But when God chooses to reveal Himself, and when He gives us context for our relationship with Him, He does so in the masculine—as Father.
So, how should we talk when we talk about God? We should talk about Him the way God Himself does. Embrace both masculine and feminine characteristics as He does, but pay close attention to how God speaks of Himself. He is our Father, and He wants to be referred to as such. Let’s make sure we honor His wishes.