What’s with “She?” Happy International Women’s Day

I was a Jesuit Volunteer in 1999 when I heard my most compelling reason for addressing God as She. It was an evening talk by theologian, Elizabeth Johnson.

In her talk (as in her books), Johnson puts it plainly. Addressing God exclusively as He creates an idol: a static image of the creator as male. Only male. Ever male.

Doing so places God in a box.

And she’s right.

Constant “He” language (capital-H, no less), can inadvertently (or advertently) place a picture of God in our minds that is dangerously close to that of a human man. Though Jesus was born a human man, it is problematic to conceive of the Creator of the Universe as human man. If we think of God only as we think of human males, we could place our stereotypes of human males onto the Supreme Creator of the Universe. We manipulate what we’ll say to God, how say it, and how we perceive God’s responses.

Jesus speaks of God as the Father, but it seems he meant this more as reflective of the tender, intimate relationship between a grown-up human and his child, who would affectionately refer to him as Abba (“Daddy”). It’s not about gender. It’s about the quality of the relationship.

Brace yourself.

Even the Catholic Catechism agrees:

By calling God “Father”, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for (hu)man(ity). But this experience also tells us that human parents are fallible and can disfigure the face of fatherhood and motherhood. We ought therefore to recall that God transcends the human distinction between the sexes. He is neither man nor woman: he is God. He also transcends human fatherhood and motherhood, although he is their origin and standard:6 no one is father as God is Father.

And it makes a difference. We speak differently to males than to females, no matter who we are. We imagine them differently. We hear them differently. We do the same about age, ethnicity, language of origin, geographic region, ability or disability, the list goes on…

As one of my professors, Sandra Schneiders, would advise her colleagues: Make a weekend retreat. In your prayer, address God exclusively as She. Then come back and talk to me about how it makes no difference which pronoun you use for God.

If you would like to read stories from the Bible that address God as female, try these:

Isaiah 49: 14

El Shaddai (the breasted God)

Luke 15: 8-10

See if She has something to reveal to you here!

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