God in Egalitarian Societies

As our understanding of human development advances and reshapes the traditional views of what makes men and women similar yet different, theological studies have also taken it into account when referring and relation to the divine. This is a particular challenge for those who seek to build a theology of God in Western egalitarian societies. What follows is a brief reflection on the issue with a simple proposition to benefit the conversation.

The Bible was compiled over the period of a few thousand years by a large variety of different authors. These authors were embedded into a larger socio-historical context that informed how they understood and communicated the revelation of God. In this scenario, a variety of different nomenclatures were used when communicating God’s revelation. In the Old Testament for example, we find an assortment of names that referred to God. It goes from the generic “Elohim” used in Genesis 1, to the specific Yahweh, the proper name of the God of Israel. Not limiting themselves to “proper” names, the biblical authors would also refer to the divine through the use of a noun or adjective that expressed some dimension of God’s attributes. Thus, throughout Scripture we find God being called a Rock, Fortress, Fire, Morning Star and even a River. Though descriptive, these nouns are not complete in attributing full meaning to “God”.

In attempting to capture the full meaning of the divine-human relationship, the biblical authors also used masculine pronouns in reference to God. Embedded in a society which reverenced the patriarchs (fathers), it became logical to refer to God as a “He”. Therefore, God’s covenant and promises were communicated using androcentric language. The incarnate Word became a “man”, the firstborn “son” of the “Father”. Drawing from Old Testament promises/prophecies, the Israelites understood the Messiah to be a man, the “Son” of David. The use of masculine pronouns and androcentric language conveyed a fuller meaning in a patriarchal culture that lived in the expectation of the “King” of Israel. Even Jesus referred to God as “Father” and the Spirit as  “Counselor”, used in a masculine way.

Today, two thousand years of church tradition has continued in the path of the Early Church fathers. In our time, God is often referred to as a “he”, which has members of egalitarian societies calling for the use of a more inclusive language. This call is to be welcomed, since Scripture does not shy away from using feminine divine nomenclature either. In Hosea and Isaiah, God is described as mother who nurses her children. In the New Testament, God is a widow who has lost a precious coin, and a hen that gathers the chicks under her wings. Though only Yahweh is listed as the name of God proper, Scripture presets that one can -and must- make use of all nomenclatures that attribute faithful meaning to God, regardless of gender affiliations. One therefore should be mindful of androcentric language abuses, all the while mediating between our rich ecclesiastical tradition, the example of Christ and the call for new inclusive terminologies from different glocal theologies.

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