I have been playing with a SHACK version of my Bible paraphrase, and I’ve run into the issue of gender. I am referring to the Father as ‘Papa’ and to the Spirit as ‘Sarayu.’ And it occurred to me if I want to be speaking the scriptures in SHACK language, then I should refer to both of them as ‘she’ and ‘her.’

It’s fascinating how jarring a feminine pronoun can be. And I think the jarring is good. Paul Young wanted to yank people out of their ruts and just get them to start thinking in fresh ways. The depiction of Papa as a woman certainly does that.

But it still feels weird. Because I know gender is theologically relevant. There is nothing of the feminine that is lacking in God, but still, Jesus prayed to his Father, not his Mother, and there’s a REASON for that. I know from being a parent that the father-child relation is not interchangeable with the mother-child relation. Besides, Jesus HAD a mother; her name was Mary, and he was never interested in praying to her.

I’ve read Gary Deddo’s stuff where he grounds human gender differences in the Triune life. I thought that stuff was interesting, but it’s still foggy to me. If I recall correctly, Gary says the Father plays a masculine role as giver, while Jesus plays a feminine role (in relation to the Father) as a receiver of the Father’s gifts. But in that case, does that mean we should be calling Jesus “she”? That doesn’t sound right.

Anyway, I’m really just wrestling today; I don’t have answers to these questions. Anybody got some feedback for me?

– John Stonecypher

9 comments so far

  1. Pastor Jonathan on

    This may be a bit simplistic, because I have to admit that I haven’t done as much thinking on this subject as you have:
    It seems to me that Jesus’ full and ongoing humanity means that we always have to call him “him”. Jesus’ witness to us, through scripture and the Church, seems to tell us that our thinking about the Father needs to primarily and most often be masculine as well – calling him “him” in recognition of his self-identification as the Father. However, since – as we know – the Father is not literally a man (as the Son has become through the incarnation), and since there are places in scripture that use feminine images of God, I think we have the freedom to do as you and Paul Young are doing and sometimes use feminine language to speak of the Father.
    The more neutral language used in the Greek of the Spirit seems, to me, to open up more possibilities there. The Spirit is called “it” and he is “poured out” and appears as a dove and as a cloud. So, it seems like we have more leeway to use feminine, or even non-human, language when speaking of the Spirit.
    I haven’t really thought through the “why” of all this, it just seems to be how the Trinity has revealed itself to us through Jesus.

  2. Helen Brothers on

    Does Gensis 2:27 and 5:2 say that it takes both male and female to complete God’s image? Then the reason was explained that woman was made to complete man in Gen. 2:22-24 and Mark 10:6-8. It seems to me that it takes both genders to get a complete image of God…Then when Jesus became incarnate, He took humanity into himself to makes us one with Him also the church is Christ’s bride. WOOHOO how could we have all these relationships without both the male and female gender. Yes, praise God!!

  3. Ted Johnston on

    Trinitarian theologian Tom Smail offers helpful insights concerning gender roles as imaging God in “Like Father, Like Son, The Trinity Imaged in Our Humanity” (Eerdmans, 2005). Here are representative quotes:

    “To be authentically human is to reflect in our relationships with one another the initiating love of God the Father, the responsive love of God the Son, and the creative love of God the Spirit, in interpenetration the one with the other…Both [men and women] in ways appropriate to them, reflect what is distinctive of the three Trinitarian persons” (p. 24).

    “In the same way that the initiating Father is differentiated from the responsive Son and yet neither Father nor Son can be who they are without relating to each other and without giving themselves to and sharing themselves with each other in the distinguishing and uniting mediation of the Spirit, so men and women in their differentiated humanity can only be themselves in their relationships with one another and in their sharing of themselves with one another in a human communion that mirrors the divine communion that constitutes the life of the Trinity” (p. 242).

    “Father, Son and Holy Spirit share the same nature of love in freedom, but they express it in different ways because of the relationships in which they stand to each other. In the Father, love is initiating; in the Son, love is responsive; in the Spirit, love is creative…The divine love has three distinctive modes of being in the three divine agents who exercise it. So, it is in line with the Genesis presentation [of the imago dei] to say that the same humanity in which both Adam and Eve are created has distinctive but inter-dependent modes of being in each of them. The distinction between them is not one of diverse qualities but of distinct vocation” (p. 245).

    “Within the life of God there is the Father who initiates, and there is the Son who responds to that initiation, so that the Son has his whole being and action rooted in… the ‘from-ness’ of the Father and in that initiation and response, which are equally divine, God has his being. All that is mirrored in human life, as Genesis 2 depicts it. Where the man mirrors the ‘from-ness’ of God the Father, he is the originating source of the life of the woman. ‘Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called woman, for out of man this one was taken”(2:23). As the Son depends on the Father for both his being and his vocation, so the woman depends on the man for her being and vocation. It has immediately to be added that, as in a different way the Father depends on the Son for the relationship that will make him Father, so the man depends on the woman for the relationality that will rescue him from individualistic isolation and loneliness and present to him the needed other in relationship to whom he can grow and be fruitful” (p. 249).

    “There is here, both in the divine and the human order of being, a real equality, in that Father and Son on the one hand and Adam and Eve on the other cannot exist without each other. It is, however, not the quality of undifferentiated sameness, but rather the equality of mutual dependence, in which, sharing the same, in the one case, divine and, in the other case, human being, the Father and the man are the source and origin of that being, and the Son and the woman receive that being from them and, in doing so, expand, consolidate, and complete it” (p. 250).

    “A man is not a woman and a woman is not a man. The personhood of the one, however modified and matured by the personhood of the other, has its own calling. The man is to be responsive as he remains faithful to his distinctive calling to image the initiating love of the Father; the woman is to be proactive as she remains faithful to her distinctive calling to image the responsive love of the Son. The appropriate integration of the image of the Father and the Son in men and women, so they are both true to their calling and yet mature in their humanity, it itself the work of the creative Spirit who does in the realm of gendered humanity what he also doe in the real of ungendered divinity, by relating men and women as he relates Father and son, so that each shares what they have with the other and yet remains in the distinctiveness that constitutes their being. When, in all these interchanges, affirming and enabling love is given and received in expressions appropriate to them, the true complementarity in the creation and perfecting of our humanity begins to be realized” (p. 268).

  4. John Stonecypher (shackbible) on

    🙂 I figured this would provoke some good discussion… I feel a rightness in what’s being said in these comments. I appreciate the insight.

    I like how Tom Small differentiates between initiating love, responding love, and creative love. Those words give me a sense of different-ness without hierarchy, which seems right to me. Also I am hearing from Tom Small that:

    1. A mature man is capable of responding love.
    2. A mature woman is capable of inititating love.
    3. Yet, a man, by virtue of his maleness, has access to the cosmic resources of initiating love, a level of access that a woman does not have.
    4. Conversely, a woman, by virture of her femaleness, has access to the cosmic resources of responding love, a level of access that a man does not have.
    5. This is a complicated way of saying that men and women need each other, because each has unique access to resources needed by the other.

  5. searchofkings on

    First of all gender issues and God are ridiculous and secondly there is only One True God, the Mighty God, Jesus the Christ. Jesus was no second person in the Godhead, but rather the Son of God not God the Son. Why the Son? Joseph wasn’t the father, and Jesus who was “made of a women,” and only through the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, could only be called the Son of God. He was 100% man yet… “God in flesh reconciling man to HIMSELF.” He was emmanuel…God with US in the FLESH!

    I could go on…but just felt to drop a line:) Thanks

  6. Boyd Merriman on

    What I got out of the story when God revealed himself as a woman, was that God meets us where we are at and where we are in NEED. Later, just before he left the shack, an older gentleman, a fatherly figure, came to him.

    And of course, “Mr. Mom” comes to mind.


  7. Jason on

    “Jesus was no second person in the Godhead, but rather the Son of God not God the Son”

    I’m not sure what “searchofkings” is talking about here. Is there a better formulation of the Trinity than God in three persons (Father, Son and Spirit) in perichoretic relationship?


  8. Brian on

    I don’t think Gary would see a logical connection with saying Jesus receiving from the Father and referring to him as a “she.” He might reply that God is not a gendered being like man and the One God being three has both masculine and feminine attributes. Jesus does not receive from the Father procreatively in that he is receiving something he does not also have, like in reproductive terms. So I don’t think calling Jesus a “she” is warranted based on Gary’s work. So that is my 2 cents.

  9. shackbible on

    Brian, that is an excellent analysis. Thank you!

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