Tuesday, April 2, 2013

God: He, She, or It?

My theology of God continues to evolve.

God is more than God. Let's examine this. When we first "learned" about God, we learned he is a HE. Not a She. Not an It. Somehow, over time and in our minds, God morphed or "became" some ethereal man with a long flowing white beard, seated on a golden, jewel-encrusted throne, surrounded by legions of angels, and to his right, his one and only Son Jesus Christ, another man with penetrating eyes and a dark, flowing mane and beard. Such imagery tends to make them seem untouchable, out of reach, too holy for someone like me or you, and completely impersonal (and when I spent time in Israel, I couldn't understand why all the images of Jesus seemed so distant and sullen. The man never smiled; he seemed so. . .unhappy, a metaphor reflecting my inner state at the time).

With God established as a He in our early religious education, we have to ask the question, why? In the biblical time period, society existed as a patriarchy. Men ruled. Simple as that. Women held no place of power, unless of royalty, and so, women were considered property instead of equals. Women held the value of a goat, more or less. Men were taken more seriously than women. In a nutshell, to understand God, our little pea brains connected with the idea of metaphor and God became a He rather than a She because people were more likely to listen to men than women. Calling God "It" seemed too limiting, but so is calling God "He" or "She". Since our human minds need to compartmentalize and make sense out of things we don't quite understand, it becomes easier to identify God as something almost human or human-like. In this sense, we created (and continue to create) God in our own likeness and image.

God is more than the name we call Him or Her or It and is above and beyond any gender that we assign; since our big egos need to classify things in order to understand them, we remain content with the metaphor -- for now. But I am not content with the metaphor. God was and is more. Is God a process? A verb? Action? Intuition? And why does God have so many names?

It’s interesting to note that the most important name of God in Judaism is the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God (designated by the letters YHWH), which carries masculine imagery and grammatical forms. Elohim, another name of God, when examined etymologically and grammatically, is a masculine plural ending; however, it does not mean “gods” when referring to the God of Israel since the name is mainly used with singular verb forms and with pronouns and adjectives in the singular. There’s the idea of plurality here in the Godhead (or, the Trinity). Yet, God’s presence (Shekinah , which means “to settle,” “to inhabit,” or “to dwell”) is grammatically a feminine word, and is often employed as a feminine aspect of God. One can see the trickiness and difficulty in trying to figure out who or what God is. God is much, much more than our little minds can possibly comprehend; however, for all intents and purposes, and because language in its current state is infantile and cannot begin to capture the enormity or essence of God, I refer to God as He or She  (sometimes S/He or Spirit), and this forces me to limit God in this context as a shard of truth because of the inferiority of language. Frustrating.

But rather than rack my brain over something as trivial as which gender to use to refer to God, I'm content in knowing that God is much greater than we can ever imagine, and I've learned to accept this mystery.  Religious educators and theological scholars can speculate all they want, but in the end it's still speculation.  Whether God is a He, a She, or an It doesn't matter.  What matters is the personal relationship we each have with God.  Only when we enter into a relationship with God do we come to know the truths meant specifically for us and no one else because each spiritual path is different.  God is multi-faceted and will reveal those facets of the God-Self that are relevant to our personal and spiritual growth.  I can live with that.    

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