Thursday, January 19, 2006

God and Pronouns

God and Pronouns

Last night during an online conversation, the discussion of pronouns and God came up once again.  While I fully affirm that the Trinitarian language, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I do understand well that the use of male pronouns, he, he, he, he, he, him, himself, he, he, he… can be misleading.  I affirm two things

  1. God is not male or female – God is not gendered.  (The only exception to this rule is that if we understand Jesus as living and reigning in ascended body, then one aspect of God, that of the human side of Jesus is male.  But, generally speaking, God has no gender)

  2. God however is not an “it” – Never in the bible does God come across as merely an impersonal force.  Hence why I believe that the formula “Creator, Sustainer, and Redeemer” falls well short of the acceptable, because it turns God into a force, not a person.  

So, what is one to do?  What about the use of the pronouns “they” and “them” and “themselves”?

Traditionally the Western tradition has affirmed articulations such as “One God in three persons”.  Our Eastern sisters and brothers critique this because they see the Western tradition as elevated one God over the three.  One Eastern Theologian has even charged the western tradition with making God four.  The Eastern tradition has favored articulations of the Trinity such as “Three persons of the same substance” which emphasizes the three-personhood of the Trinity while maintaining the unity through the “one substance”.

What makes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit God is the relationships between the three persons of the trinity.  If the Father were not in relation to the Son and the Holy Spirit, he would not be good (note the bad pronoun use).  The same goes for the Son and the Holy Spirit, they are not God apart from their relationship with the other two members of the trinity.  So to truly speak of the Christian God we must speak of God as plural.

So is it fair to use plural pronouns?  Are the following sentences acceptable?

“I asked God to show me where they wanted me to serve…”
In the person of Jesus Christ God revealed themselves to the world…”

Where I see the strength of using plural pronouns is that it is faithful to God’s Trinitarian nature and avoids gendered statements.  The downside is that can come across as polytheistic.  Thoughts?


At 12:19 AM, Anonymous Juliana --note the spelling :-P said...

By making the switch from using "he, him, his" as pronouns for God to "they, them, their" we would confuse a lot of people! The trinity is one of the hardest things for Christiansto understand, let alone other religions. If the whole Christian church made this switch I believe that eventually it would keep people from joining the church because of fear of polytheism.

However, this change would be appropriate. As you said, God has no gender. (Quite frankly it annoys the crap out of me when there are too many male oriented pronouns in a service.) Also, the trinity is what grounds our religion. If we only refer to worshiping the "father" part of the trinity then the Trinitarian founding of our church has been lost.

Another thing-- This switch would set us apart from other monotheists (I'm not necessarily saying this is a bad thing.) I came across the Muslim's affirmation of faith while researching world religions. Here's a excerpt:

"We believe in His oneness in all of this, that is, He has no associate in His divinity, His God ship, His names, or His attributes. Allah says in the Qur'an: "He is the Lord of the heavens and the Earth and all that is in between them, so worship Him and be patient in His worship; do you know any equal to Him?" (19:65)….."

Since Christians use the same pronouns some believe that the Christian "he" is that same "he" of Islam. By switching to "they" we would be limiting this thought's existence and possibly cause more dispute and violence between Christians and other world religions.

Hmmmm… I suppose I’m for this change.

Random question:

If a preacher preaches about God as much as she/he preaches about the “evil one,” satan, or the devil, isn’t that close to Dualism?

At 3:36 PM, Blogger Backwoods Presbyterian said...

While I understand the "annoyance" of male pronouns that Juliana has noticed I must say that my Ukranian Orthodox friends have made many comments about plural pronouns being heretical at best. If male pronouns affect your worship then my feeling is that there is a deeper problem that needs rooted out.


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