As a preliminary remark, this article continues my reflection on the complex matter on the use of more inclusive language in our services of worship.
The problem of which pronoun to use in reference to God is, indeed, a thorny one. It is absolutely right when we say that “God is limitless,” and that it is audacious to imagine that applying masculine terms could ever limit Him. I would venture to suggest that adding feminine terms would not solve the problem either, because “two” is finite in the same way that “one” is. Gender is simply not applicable to God – and using both, instead of one, does not change that.
We have to recognise that God will not fit into our human limitations – and, therefore, cannot be confined within human language. We have only four choices:
Go on using “He”, recognising that this does not imply a gender limitation (a special “He”):
Use the clumsy he/she formula.
Use a natural pronoun (It)!
Avoid the use of pronouns completely and use the word “God” every time.
Alternative (i) would appear to be the least unsatisfactory of the four. We sometime use feminine pronouns when referring to the Church; and, as a male. We must never feel excluded or marginalised by this. It is not the use of “He”, “Him” for God a similar accommodating device?
If we allow ourselves to be disturbed, we often open ourselves to something new that God want to do in the church. Perhaps God wants to disturb us in this way. Many ask why it should be necessary to change to concept of God as written in the Bible. The fact is there are many different concepts of God in the Bible, including feminine ones. Over the centuries, people have emphasised different images of God. So, to avoid always referring to God in very masculine terms is not changing any immutable concept of God.
When we say that “we should rather concentrate on becoming more like Christ every day – and we certainly don’t have to become a man to do that” – we then already interpreting the Gospel in our own mind to include women.
But why must we go on doing this for ourselves? Why are we not honest in the church and include “women” in our language. When we hear all the images and language for God, we again in our mind think “actually God is Spirit and not really a man” but why must we and more than half the body of believers go on doing this for ourselves? Why not be open and honest in the church and stop referring to God in exclusively make terms?
We should be far more concerned about whether our brothers and sisters, and neighbours and friends have heard the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.
That is why we should be sensitive to the feelings of so many women who are searching for God and meaning in their lives but find the insensitive domination of maleness in our churches tolerable. Some women are leaving the church because of this. They find secular society much more willing to change and accept them as equals.
However, Paul says he become a Jew to win Jews and as one outside the law in order to win those outside the law. He became weak to the weak in order to win them. In fact, he says: “I have become all things to all people (not just men!) that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:19-23 NRSV).
Finally, let us be thankful that “You” applies to both sexes, and that we can at least speak to God (even if not about God), without giving offence to any pressure group within society. So, even if we use traditional exclusive language or not, we owe it to Christ and the Gospel to be sensitive to those who are still seeking and who find our exclusivity unacceptable and unbiblical.