Most of the controversy surrounding Paul Young’s book The Shack concerns the fact that he portrays God as an African-American woman who enjoys cooking. The fact that God is pictured as female raises a lot of theological hackles. God is obviously male.
Or is he?
Pam Hogeweide interviews Paul Young in her excellent book Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. During their discussion, Paul says this:
My journey into the nature of the Trinity actually began by my exploration of the issues of gender. I have spent about twenty-five years working on the issues of maleness and femaleness and if you spend enough time investigating such questions, you will invariably find yourself focused on the nature of God and on the Trinity. You discover, of course, that God is neither male nor female but that both genders derive their identity from the nature of God. God is Spirit, and both genders reflect the image of God. So the use of imagery, both male and female, is always going to be inadequate.
Genesis 1:27 states:
So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
God is Spirit, (John 4:24) without gender. It takes both male and female to represent God.
Obviously most of the imagery concerning God in the Bible is masculine, and God is constantly referred to as “he.” (There is no neutral gender for verbs in ancient Hebrew.) But not exclusively. God is also shown as a mother eagle (Deuteronomy 32:11), like a woman in labor (Isaiah 42:14), as a mother with children (Isaiah 49:14-16), as a mother hen (Luke 13:34).
I find it interesting that the designation of God as Father is rare in the Old Testament–he’s only described that way 15 times. But Jesus talked about God as his Father constantly. “Abba” is an intimate and affectionate term that Jesus used more than 165 times in the Gospels. And he taught us to refer to God that same way.
Just some food for thought…
What do you think?
Photo credit: leancillo sabino (Creative Commons)