Language About God


An interesting discussion from Facebook this week continues so I thought I would post it here as well.

I commented Sunday morning,

Some church songs are easier to make gender neutral than others.

Some of these songs lean so heavily on the masculine pronoun that they are nearly unusable

As someone who is very intentional about mixing up the English pronouns used for God [link], this is an important issue for me. It sparked a nice little discussion. To clarify I added the following:

The gender pronouns in the Bible are not a problem unless you think they are literal.
Scripture is fine as contextual (and timely) expression (as all expressions are). It is actually comes down to your view of language.
Language is the limiting factor because each era attempts to do its best with the words that it has – OUR era has two difficulties

  1. Hebrew and Greek do not come into English smoothly – one issue is the lack of masculine/feminine that say Spanish and French have. English is limited in that sense.
  2. The nature of language means that we utilize word pictures and metaphors that are never the exact representation of thing we are talking about. It is just as accurate and inaccurate to call God a rock, a father, or a mother hen. Of course, God is not actually ANY of those things really. They are word pictures. God’s ontological reality is not captured in any language.

We are just doing the best with the tools that we have.”

People will then point to Jesus’ gender as an endorsement of a masculine God.

Jesus, however, was using relational language. Not literal. God is not a big man with a penis in the sky. Jesus was saying that he related to God as one relates to a perfect parent.
IN fact, Jesus’ statements about his relationship ‘abba’ were so in depth that they comprised Jesus’ character {as in ‘I and the father are one’ if you have seen me you have seen the one who sent me)
In this way, Jesus was unique in history and truly worthy to be called ‘son of god’ which makes him worthy of praise (as we praise god) so that the Christian church developed a trinitarian understanding of god (a novel development)

It reminded me of that old CS Lewis poem, “A Footnote To All Prayers” (it references Pheidias who was a legendary statue maker in the ancient world)

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.
Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

I am always surprised by how insistent people are that their language of God is accurate and sufficient. I guess that is a good reminder why this issue is worth contesting and why it is so vital that we challenge the status quo.

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