Students were once taught that when referring to generic individuals in abstract situations, the masculine pronoun “he” was to be used. An example might be, “if someone has two apples, he has two snacks.” Over time, exclusive use of gender specific pronouns has become frowned upon.
While such semantics have been the source of civil discussion, the Liturgy continues to employ the masculine pronouns “He” and “His” when referring to God. And while it is true that God is without gender, being completely above the finite limits that such distinctions would place on the Creator, there might be a practical reason for continuing to employ male pronouns for God.
It is true that there are Biblical references that describe God in feminine terms. In Isaiah 42, God laments the sins of the people “as a woman in labor.” Jesus compared God’s care for the lost to a woman who searches her house to find one lost coin.
At the same time, the vast majority of references to God in the Bible employ masculine language. God is never referred to with any feminine pronouns like “she,” or “her.” It was generally accepted until very recent times that the masculine pronouns had the sense of “it” when referring to both males and female.
We know from the Scriptures that God is without gender. When Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well He told her that, “God is Spirit.”
As Jesus indicates after His Resurrection in Luke 24, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have.”
The inspired sacred authors of the Scriptures certainly knew that the God they worshipped was unlike any of the pagan gods. It begs the question why they understood Yahweh in terms of a Father’s care for children.
One constant characteristic revealed about God is His transcendence. God is outside of creation. If God were in every created thing, then it would mean that God is created deformities like cancer cells.
Recently Stephen Fry, an avowed English atheist, appeared on Irish television. He was asked about the possibility that God really does exist and what Mr. Fry would say to Him. Mr. Fry angrily retorted that he would ask God, “bone cancer in children — what’s that about? How dare You create a world in which there is such misery that is not our fault!”
Male imagery helps to avoid this pitfall. Only a male can generate life outside of himself; a female must create and nurture life from within. If God is every aspect of things created then the Creator would be the source of all ills. However, God is outside of creation and generated it from nothing, as described by the theory of the Big Bang.
While it may not be thought “inclusive” to refer to the Almighty with generic terminology, it really has to do with original sin. God did not cause it; we did, just as we might be the source of our own offended sensibilities.
FATHER BRYAN BABICK is the vicar for Divine Worship and the Sacraments for the Diocese of Charleston. Email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.