Monday, August 27, 2012

The God Pronoun

Word choice can be the most nitpicky and profound part of editing. I've had writers completely exasperated by it, and others with jaw drops of clarity. Both responses make sense.Word choice gets into the fuzzy world of implications and connotations. That's a very reader-oriented sort of editing, and sometimes you don't want to sacrifice your darlings to the drooling masses.

A single wrong word choice throws off the entire understanding of an audience. We see it all the time in politics: I surmise it's one reason political speeches have gone the route of vagueness. We see it in the the he-said-she-said arguments of wedded bliss--heaven knows the nuances in those fights would make an editor's head spin.

We also see word choice issues in translations. The Bible causes these more than any book I can think of. While I admire the populism which eventually saw it translated from its parent languages, translators make mistakes. This is a problem when the church tends toward bibliolatry (worship of a book). A healthy injection of Greek and Hebrew outside of seminary would be useful, but that's my other axe to grind.

In my personal worship, I often struggle with word choice. What did Paul mean by arsenokoitai? Was speaking in tongues xenoglossy or glossolalia? I got so tired of dragging my Classicist spouse over for New Testament insight that I began learning ancient Greek myself.

This morning, I was wondering about the most critical pronoun of all. Can God be a she?

I can’t imagine God having a problem with it. While many words and metaphors for God are masculine, most of the writers of the Bible were masculine. The Hebrew word for God’s presence, Shekinah, is feminine, and God is called a mother in several places (Luke 13:34, Deut 32:11-12, etc.), and even Jesus has been portrayed as mother in the spirituality of the Middle Ages. I know Jewish philosophy does not ascribe a gender to God. Madeline L’Engle thought God above gender, and so used “el” as a pronoun. I too think God is above gender, but I also think God is a personal God. If God is in me, should that mean God is my gender in my mind? Or should I just call God “God,” and avoid the problem entirely?

Why ask this? Isn't the masculine form also neuter? Technically, yes, though many in the writing industry are making the decision to alternate gender by chapter (e.g., using "he" in chapter 1 and "she" in chapter 2). Beyond the proper choice, however, is the matter of gendered understanding. When you think of God as father, what's your mental image?

What about God as mother?

See what I mean? I wonder if, by opening my inner mentality about a gendered God to the historically persecuted gender, I'd form a broader understanding of God, unfettered by rigid masculinity. God is, after all, a vast entity. I want to know more about her.

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