(DISCLAIMER: Throughout this blog post I will use the pronoun “he” to describe God, which might contradict everything I say in this post. But it saves time instead of saying “he/she/it” all the time.)
If you spend as much time on the Christian blogosphere as I do, chances are you probably got wind of John Piper’s recent comments about a more “masculine Christianity.” According to Piper:
“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother," Piper said. "The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male...God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head."
“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel,” Piper continued. “And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female... He does not intend for women to languish or be frustrated or in any way suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy in this masculine Christianity. From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel.”
True, most of the nouns attributed to God in the Bible are distinctly masculine: King, Lord, and Father. However, after doing some research I personally think these words are meant to be metaphors for how God relates to His people, rather than definitive statements about His gender.
Today I want to focus on the image of God as father. As someone who grew up without a father, the father image immediately resonated with me. The King of the Universe is also my . . . dad? The father image shows us just how intimate God’s relationship with His people really is. But does this mean God is exclusively a father, and does not have any mother qualities at all?
Nope! Turns out God has qualities of a mother as well as a father.
Probably the most well-known Bible verse that uses the mother image is Isaiah 66:13--"As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem.” [Emphasis mine] In our culture, comforting children is usually thought of as a mom thing. Mom nurtures the kids, while dad disciplines them, right? But in this case God the Father doesn't just discipline His children: He comforts them.
Another key scripture is Matthew 23:37--“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I [Jesus] have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing." [Emphasis mine] Notice how Jesus doesn't say "as a rooster;" He says "as a hen." Once again, this verse tells us that God the Father has those nurturing qualities usually reserved for mothers.
It's also interesting to point out that although the father image is used more throughout scripture to describe God, the word "father," according to scholar John Dominic Crossan, actually refers to both father and mother. Here's an excerpt from his book The Greatest Prayer:
"From all those various biblical examples---from Exodus and Deuteronomy to Proverbs and Sirach---I draw two very important conclusions. One is that despite its male-oriented prejudice, the biblical term 'father' is simply a shorthand term for 'father and mother.' In fact, unless context demands exclusive male emphasis, it is usually wiser to presume an inclusive intention.
Another is that 'father and mother' does not just intend 'parent' in charge of children, but rather 'householder' in charge of a home or extended family. The biblical concept of householder does not envisage the single-occupant or even nuclear-family household. It imagines the extended multigenerational household as in those Sabbath day commands. It contains brothers and sisters, unmarried sisters and married brothers, clients and dependents, male and female slaves, animals, lands and tools."
I don't know if God is exclusively male, or even if He has a gender at all. But I don't really understand why so many Christians believe Christianity only has a masculine feel, when God shows characteristics of both a father and a mother.