Is God a Boy or a Girl?
May 16, 2018
Today we remember and honor our mothers. I’m sure you remember some of your mother’s pet sayings that stay with you over a life-time. I’ve compiled a list of things that mothers, including my own, say to their children.
When my children were small I would say prayers with them each night. One night, just before I tucked my eight year old daughter into bed, she looked at me with all seriousness and asked, “Dad, is God a boy or girl?”
I couldn’t tell an eight year old that her question was a hot topic in theological circles at that time, that language about God and describing God was the subject of scholarly articles and speeches and books among the most distinguished Biblical scholars in the country.
What’s more I couldn’t say to her that feminist theologians were leading the attack on language of God that address God exclusively as a male: God, he; God our Father. Feminist theologians were pointing out how such language supports patriarchy, the rule of males over all creation.
Since I had done a lot of reading on those subjects, and done a lot of thinking about them for my own preaching, many thoughts flooded through me mind. But I knew that if I told her everything I knew, it would just confuse her. So I had to give her an answer that was both true and fitting for an eight year old mind.
Children ask the most wonderful and difficult questions, don’t they? And a child’s conception of God is both funny and interesting.
Eight year old Danny Dutton from Chula Vista, California had a home-work assignment to explain God. Listen to what Danny said about God:
“One of God’s main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn’t make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn’t have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.
“God’s second most important job is listening to prayers. An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn’t have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.
“God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn’t go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad’s head asking for something they said you couldn’t have.
“Atheists are people who don’t believe in God. I don’t think there are any in Chula Vista. At least there aren’t any who come to our church.
“Jesus is God’s Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn’t want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn’t know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O.K.
“His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn’t have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.
“You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.
“You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there’s anybody you want to make happy, it’s God! Don’t skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn’t come out at the beach until noon anyway.
“If you don’t believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can’t go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can It is good to know He’s around you when you’re scared, in the dark or when you can’t swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.
“But…you shouldn’t just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases. And…that’s why I believe in God.”
That’s pretty good, isn’t it? I wonder how many of us could do as well to explain God. But….back to our question: is God a boy or girl? Is God a male or female?
SLIDE TWO: GOD IS SPIRIT
The most obvious answer is “neither.” God is neither male or female. God is spirit, as John 4 points out. But what exactly is “spirit.” This is getting very difficult, isn’t it?
The larger question is “Who is God?” and “What is God like?”
And naturally, to answer that question, we turn to the source book of the church for our answers.
When you ask most people that question–“Who is God and what is God like?” the answer you most frequently hear is,
SLIDE THREE: GOD AS FATHER
“God is our Father.”
That has been the prevailing image of God in the church for 2000 years. But it may surprise you to crack open your Bible and find out exactly what the Bible says about God.
The most common Biblical metaphor for God is God as father-like. But get this: the father-image for God appears only seven times in the Old Testament. Let me repeat that, only seven times. The concept of Father God” in the O.T. stems from the fact that the father of the tribe or the father of the family was a patriarch, controlling everything. Males were supreme; females were second-class citizens.
SLIDE FOUR: GOD AS MOTHER
The mother-image for God appears ten times in the O.T. Note the slide. And if you are keeping score: father-image 7, mother-image 10. I believe the Old Testament is trying to teach us something here: more on that in a moment.
In the N.T. the father-image of God is used 275 times.
SLIDE FIVE ABBA FATHER
It was Jesus’ favorite description of God, which leads me to believe that his earthly father must have been a wonderful role model. Jesus called God God “Abba,” an Aramaic word which means something like “Daddy” or “Papa.” It is a term of endearing intimacy. ‘‘Daddy, would you read a book to me. Daddy, could we go get some ice-cream.”
But there are so many more images in the Bible which describe what God is like.
SLIDE 6: ABSTRACT IMAGES
There are abstract images, which challenge our imagination and tease our intellect: God as spirit; God as the Eternal Word, God as Wisdom, and that wonderful passage of the burning bush in Exodus 3 where God says in response to Moses’ question, “Who are you?” God responds “I am who I am….or I will be who I will be.” God is saying, “You can’t pin me down. You have no human categories to contain me.”
SLIDE 7: ANIMAL IMAGES
And then there are the animal images of God: mother bear, eagle, lion, mother hen.
SLIDE 8: NATURE IMAGES
And the nature images:
Wind Acts 2:2; John 3:8
A Rock—Isaiah 17:10
Light—John 8:12; Isaiah 60:2-3
A Vine—John 15:1
And the human images of God:
SLIDE 9 BAKER
SLIDE 10: MID WIFE
SLIDE 11 FRIEND
SLIDE 12 SHEPHERD
SLIDE 13 POTTER.
SLIDE 14 BLANK
What’s going on here? What is the Bible trying to teach us? In the main, the Bible is saying to us, “Your concept of God is too small. God cannot be compressed into any one image, nor can God be totally described in all the images of scripture. Or if I could paraphrase what God said to Job in chapters 38 and 39, “Who are you pygmy brain, to think that you could know me.”
What I am saying about the language about God this morning isn’t just some abstruse theological exercise, but goes to the heart of our faith. For if being able to trust in God is at the heart of our faith, then how we visualize God will affect our relationship with God.
A woman came to one of those conservative churches searching for a meaningful faith. It so happened that the pastor of this church always used the words “God our Father” in his sermons and prayers. That was the only metaphor he used for God. This particular woman had been repeatedly sexually abused by her own father, so the word “Father” triggered the most painful memories.
I read the other day that one of every four children under the age of six in the U.S. live at or below the poverty line, and half of these children live with single mothers who themselves are poor. So we have now a generation of children–millions of them–when they think of father they think of someone who abandoned them, someone who did not do his duty, someone who was never there for them.
So I believe that the future of our faith is at stake in the language of God question. We need lots of images to help us come to know God. The Father image isn’t bad; it just isn’t enough. Our language about God should be as diverse and varied as the Bible itself. The Bible, as we have seen, teems with hundreds of metaphors to expand our view of God.
I want to suggest that in your relationship with God, think of an image about God that means something to you. A woman I know had such a wonderful mother that she always began her prayer with the words, “O God, my Mother.” That conjured up for her the picture of a God who loved her more than she loved her own life. So find an image that speaks to you, an image that will expand and not restrict what God is and what God wants to do in your life.
A few years ago we loaded up a U Haul trailer and took both of our children off to college, to Southern Illinois University. Our daughter was a junior there, but it was our son’s first year, and we became EN’s, E.N’s, empty nesters.
I felt really sad as started the long drive back to Chicago, I had a case of the sad sniffles for a couple of hours. (Later, when I told friends how sad I felt that we were empty nesters, some other former EN’s told me, “Don’t feel so bad, they will be back sooner than you want.”
At any rate, driving back to Chicago, I was thinking about all the things my son and I had done together that have meant so much to me that I would not be able to do that fall and winter–trips to Chicago Stadium watching Michael Jordan soar and slam; our evening ritual of washing the dishes, I washing, he drying; the cross country meets and the track meets when I would cheer him on.
I don’t think he knows–and perhaps none of us ever know this until we are parents ourselves–about how much a parent loves his child; perhaps more than we love our own lives do we love our children. I don’t think our children know how desperately we want close relationships with them, however inept we are in pulling that off.
SLIDE 15 IS GOD A BOY OR GIRL
Is God a boy or girl? That’s the question my little daughter asked me.
Here’s how I answered her. “Well, Amie, God is a divine spirit, who created us and the world. God is so great that I can’t fully understand everything about God. But I believe that God is like me, a father, who loves you more than anything. And God is like mom, who takes care of you and who would do anything to help you.”
The look on her face told me that my answer was satisfactory, and we kissed each other goodnight.
The Bible says that God loves us just like we parents love our children. God wants a close relationship with us just like we want to be close to our children. God misses us when we are away in some far country. God wants to cuddle us close, like a mother does her nursing child. That we should be so valued by the Creator of the Universe is the miracle of all miracles.