It is so hard to find words to refer to God! Today is Fathers’ Day, and Father imagery is everywhere. But when we talk about God, father-imagery is only a part of the picture. God is so much bigger than male or female, father or mother, than anything we can imagine, and yet in order to have a relationship with God, we use words that describe the most intimate , first relationships we have – those with our parents. Well, that should mean that ‘Mummy’ is as common a way of talking to and about God as ‘Daddy’, or ‘Abba’, which is how Jesus referred to God.
When Jesus was born the society was very much male-dominated, especially in the power structures, and in order for Him to have a life-changing ministry it made more sense for Him to be born as a man. The way God chose for that to happen was for the human parent to be female – that meant that the other parent, the divine parent, is seen as male, although that is only a small part of who God is.
Unfortunately, these circumstances have meant that God has been seen to be pretty-much male, like the Blake painting of an elderly man with a white flowing beard, looking compassionately out from the clouds. We need to be aware of those for whom a father-image of God doesn’t sit well with their own life experience – an absent, or abusive father just doesn’t fit well with God as a loving Father. The Lord’s Prayer notwithstanding, there are many other ways of addressing God and thinking about God which don’t need to be seen as male, but – and now I’m getting to the reason for the name of this post – we don’t have a gender-neutral pronoun! We can’t refer to God as ‘it’ – it doesn’t seem either respectful or relational. We could say “he” and deny other images, as has been done for centuries. We could say ‘she’ and get labelled as rampant feminists, which can be an interesting position to be in.
Whatever way you look at it, someone will be offended. Let’s get together as a Christian community, or a linguistically-gifted community, and find another pronoun for God!