Friday, 17 June 2011
I, at times, refer to the Holy Spirit of God (one of the three persons of the trinity which consists of Father, Son and Holy Spirit) as "she". This turns a lot of heads, perks ears, and lifts eyebrows nearly every time I do it. Why? Because it is unfamiliar language? Yes, in part. Because it sounds fallacious or heretical? Perhaps. But is it heretical or even fallacious? I submit that not only is this practice not veering into incorrect theology but is greatly beneficial to Christians, especially male Christians.
First, we all have to admit that God is not a man. He is not a man as male humans are men. Jesus Christ was fully human and a male, yes, but God (the Godhead) is not a man. He does not have a penis. A person of God is man (but also God) but God in One is not a man. Man was made in the image of God. Male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27). Both men and women reflect who God is by their very nature. That means God can not be confined to one of their created natures. Therefore we must confess that God, being other and greater than humans, transcends gender. He is neither male nor female for he is beyond. He is other. He is God. Or, as he once stated to Moses, "I Am." Many refer to God as tertium quid which means "third thing." He's completely different from us.
Even though God transcends gender we often refer to God (and all three persons of the Trinity) as "he" in scripture. Why? Well there are several good reasons I'm sure but the most obvious would be culture. In a world dominated by men (sadly this is still true today) it only makes sense to call God "he". Yet we know that He is not in our image but we in His. This is true of both us fellas and us ladies. We're all in His image. But we have this longstanding tradition of referring to God as a "he". I observe this tradition. Why wouldn't I? We have to do what we can with what we've got. Now we have to ask if there is tradition of referring to God or any of His persons as "she". Jesus Christ is not a "she" and certainly the Father is not a "she" but what about the Holy Spirit?
First, we need to rewind a tiny bit. Jesus Christ was a man. He was male. He was human. Right? Right. But he is also called the Wisdom of God (Proverbs 8:22). That's interesting. At the same time, the Spirit of God is also often looked upon as the Wisdom of God. For many through time there is a deep connection between God's Wisdom and Spirit. Throughout the Proverbs Wisdom is referred to as a woman, a female, a "she". Interesting again. But Jesus isn't a woman. He isn't just the Wisdom of God and yet He is still the Wisdom of God. But let's not forget, for what it is worth, this connection exists. But what of the Spirit? The Spirit is not like Jesus Christ. Spirit is not human, not male. So would it be wrong to refer to the Spirit as "he"? No. Scripture does this at times. What about "she"? This requires more examining of God and tradition. I would suggest here that referring to Spirit as "it" is insufficient and treating a personal being as impersonal.
God is like a father in many ways. God is also like a mother in many ways. He gives us life and births us (in Him we are born again), nurtures us, comforts us, feeds us, and so on. He's a working father and a stay at home mother all at once. He provides all we need. We are his children, born of him, protected by him, raised by him. How does much of this nurturing occur? Through the Spirit of course for she is our helper. The more feminine (traditionally I mean, so don't jump down my throats ladies because you know by now that I'm a feminist as well) aspects of God seem to line up with the activity of the Spirit. In fact, this is so true that early Church Fathers such as Origen and Jerome stated "My Mother, the Holy Spirit, seized me." This answers our earlier question of whether there is tradition of God being called "she". Church fathers certainly referred to a person of the trinity as "she" and there are scriptural connections to the concept of God being feminine.
At the end of the day, I can find no reason why it would be any more wrong to deem the Holy Spirit "she" as opposed to "he". At the least we can say that "she" is more appropriate than "it." At the same time, "he" is entirely appropriate and more common. The Holy Spirit shouldn't be confined to either "he" or "she" it seems according to tradition. For many Christians this is a practice that could help remind them of the important role women play in creation and the way they reflect Creator God who gives us life. This may be uncomfortable for many, especially men, but I have found it to be incredibly enriching. Perhaps we all ought to try it from time to time, in the write context (when referring to the feminine aspects of the Spirit).
What are your thoughts? Do you find this practice uncomfortable? What about fallacious? Have you encountered this before? Do you think this could be a good practice?