International Women’s Day – God is not male
Lieutenant Star Conliffe explores a commonly held view that God is male.
When you think about ‘God’, what image comes to mind? Maybe, like many of us, you imagine God to be an old man, sitting on a throne in the clouds. Maybe he’s even got a beard. You’ve probably seen God depicted like this a lot in pop-culture, such as in the film Bruce Almighty or The Simpsons (God has lots of cameos in that show!). But is God in fact male, or is this idea just myth, one that even a lot of Christians believe?
The ’Father’ metaphor
There’s no doubt that Jesus, who was both God and human was a man, so he was male. And most people understand that the Holy Spirit is neither female nor male. It’s the person we call God the Father who we confuse as being male. There is good reason for this confusion, starting with the fact that we commonly use the metaphor of ‘Father’ for God. But when Jesus calls God our Father, it helps us understand God’s character as a loving provider and protector. It had nothing to do with God being male. In fact, sometimes in the Bible God even talks about Godself using motherly images. For example, in Isaiah (49:15) God says, ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’
Some people argue that God must be male because of the masculine pronouns (he/him) used for God in their English bibles. But what you may not know is that the original languages of the Bible don’t always use male pronouns. Sometimes they use a gender-neutral word like ‘they’ or even the feminine pronoun ‘she’ for the Holy Spirit. Helpfully, not all modern languages are as limited as English. For example, since 1930 Chinese language bibles have used a gender-neutral pronoun instead of ‘he’ for God, which is neither female nor masculine, but divine. It’s a special character that looks like this 祂. 
Most theologians would agree that God is spirit and therefore cannot have not have a biological sex
God is not limited
Most theologians would agree that God is spirit and therefore cannot have a biological sex (male or female) and that God has both masculine and feminine characteristics.
However, many people still talk about God in ways that support the myth that God is male. Sadly, this myth has led to some other very narrow ideas about God which have caused real harm to people. Like, if God is a man, then men are more like God. Or that God has put men in charge. I’ve even heard people say that because God is our ‘Father’ then in a family, the father should make all the decisions. This myth has therefore created gender inequality and excluded women in many churches and families, which God never intended.
Our language and our imagination are limited by gender, but God is not. While I don’t think everyone needs to change the pronouns they use to talk about God, it’s good to remind ourselves often that God isn’t a man, and that God is bigger than our ideas of gender. Maybe then we can start to understand God better.
Lieutenant Star Conliffe is a Salvation Army officer (pastor) in Victoria.