Talking about God

October 28, 2017

Language about God remains a problem for modern English speakers. We don’t have  pronouns when referring to God that don’t ascribe gender to God.

The Bible is clear, even if our popular usage is not; God is neither male nor female. The Bible uses lots of different images and metaphors to talk about God. God declines to be labeled by telling Moses, “I am who I am”.

But in common usage, God is often referred to as “he”, or “him”. And often called “Father”. Calling God “Father” is fine. It’s Biblical. Jesus calls God “Father”. But Father language is a problem when it is the only metaphor we use to talk about God.

How do we avoid using male language for God? Some of us try to use both male and female language. Referring to God as “she” and “her” can help remind us that God is not male. But these are still gendered terms. Because most of us hardly ever hear and use “she” it does remind us- by its unexpectedness- that God is not male.  Theologically the use of “she” is just as limiting and incorrect as “he”.

Some of us (and this is my practice) try not to use pronouns at all. We just call God, “God”. This can, admittedly, make for some awkward sentences. I have,with practice, learned to avoid sentence structure that use pronouns when I am speaking about God. When I pray, I don’t typically use “Father”. I simply call God, “God” or “Holy One”. This helps me remember that God is neither male nor female and most importantly to remind myself that God is not a more powerful version of a human. Images and metaphors can help us comprehend important things about God. But all our metaphors are inadequate. God is God.

Gender fluid people and gender nonconforming people have given us some new options. This is a gift of the LGBTQ community to the rest of us.You can learn a bit about these options here and here.  The pronoun I hear used most often is “they/their”. To be honest, it sounds a little odd the first time you hear it. And it feels awkward the first few times you say it. But that is simply a matter of practice and use.

Theologically “they/their” has some interesting possibilities. God is not identified by a gender. That is theologically and Biblically appropriate. “They/their” also helps remind Christians that God is triune. God is one and yet three.

Being attentive to the Trinity matters. Western Christians, if we are not careful, can end up equating “God” with “Father” and then treating “Son” and “Holy Spirit” as some sort of secondary gods. But God is all three, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And all three are God. They/their language could help remind us of the complexity of God’s being.

When Moses asks God who they are, God’s response is untranslatable- I am who I am. I will be who I will be. I will be who I am. I am who I will be.

The current discussion about gender and humans may, I hope, help move us past ascribing gender ( intentionally or unintentionally) to God. Recognizing and allowing people to be more than only two distinct genders as humans, may help free us as we think about God. Perhaps, as we become less focused on whether a person is male or female and allow them to be who they understand themselves to be, perhaps we will also become less focused on categorizing God and allow ( so to speak!) God to be who God declares themself to be.

 

 

 

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God’s Dilemma

October 7, 2017

Everytime I read the story of Moses, the slaves, the Egyptians and the parting of the sea- if I read with expectation and anticipation- there is something new in the story.

 

Read it again, read it as if for the first time  Exodus 13:17-14:31.

What do you notice?

The last time I read this, I noticed the pillar and cloud at first leads the people who will become Israel (will become- because at this point in the story they are a bunch of refugees) out, away from bondage into an unknown future. They have been redeemed- bought and brought out of slavery into a yet to be created future.

Once they are on the shore of the sea, there are two impossible choices. They can walk into the sea or they can stay and wait for the Egyptian army.  Sometimes in life none of our choices are good ones.  Sometimes our choice is between two lousy options.

In the story the pillar moves from in front of the people to behind them, in between the people who will be Israel and the Egyptian army.  The pillar stays there all night. “Bringing darkness to one side and light to the other side”. Which side received the darkness and which the light?

I wonder why the pillar moves and stays between the two groups.  To protect the people who will be Israel? Probably. But I also wonder if God in the pillar also had a word for Egypt.

  “You don’t have to do this.”

 “You can stop right here.”

 “You can turn around and leave.”

 “No one has to die tomorrow.”

“My choosing of these people doesn’t mean I reject you. My choosing of these people doesn’t have to mean your destruction. Beloved, turn around.”

Who waited in the light and who waited in the darkness? Could the Egyptian army have been held in the light?

God chose the people who will become Israel but that choosing of them doesn’t have to mean the rejection, the destruction of others. In fact, God tells Abraham he is the one through whom the rest of the world will be blessed. He is blessed so that he and his descendants can be a blessing to others.

At the same time, God doesn’t compel or force. The people who will become Israel and the people who are the Egyptian army both have a choice to make.

 

I once hear a rabbi ask, “Who is the most tragic figure in the Bible?”  (I wrote about this ten years ago, here and here.)

Who would you say?

His answer was God. Because God never gets what God wants, and God never gets what God deserves. But why doesn’t God get what God wants and deserves?

I wonder if because God decided to be God with and for and through us, that means that God sometimes ends up with two impossible choices?  Egypt or the people who will be Israel?

Do the choices we make leave God with limited options? What if the Egyptian army stopped their pursuit?  What would God have done? What could God have done with that decision?

What if the people who will be Israel didn’t step into the sea? What would God done?

God can do whatever God wants, but if God’s decision was to give us true freedom and choice, didn’t God limit God’s own self?  When we relate to another in freedom, we don’t have complete control over them. When we love another, we don’t want to control them.  So I wonder, do the choices we make, the choices I make leave God with limited options?  What do you think?


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