Talking about God

Here are a couple of ‘musings’ which have been developing over some time. Neither is big to form a whole blog post on its own (at least, that’s what I think as I start writing - but who knows, maybe they’ll grow as I write), but they are related, so I’m leaving them together for now.

The first concerns how I refer to God. It is mostly related to my discomfort with the word ‘God’. It’s a word loaded with ‘baggage’. Not least because it makes ‘God’ seem like just another god among many gods, although it seems that this one has been going to the gymfor a whileas well as taking anabolic steroids and is ‘ripped'. I almost feel as though I need to use a different word, so as to break the link between ‘God’ and ‘the gods’. And that’s because of what I might call both God’s supremacy and his transcendence. He is, in a very real sense, ‘way beyond’ and ‘way above’ other gods humanity has worshiped. Those other gods - Zeus/Jupiter and the rest of the Greco-Roman pantheon; Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva and the other Hindu gods; Odin and the Norse gods; Amun, Horus, Ra and the other Egyptian gods; I could go on and on. Somehow God is above, beyond and, in a sense, ‘behind’ these other gods - in that they’re all attempts by humanity to either invent or explain what is ‘beyond’ humanity’s understanding. They all have very ‘human’ aspects and, yes, flaws… Having been 'made in humanity’s image' that isn’t surprising.

The difficulty with calling our god ‘God’ is that it tends to result in us anthropomorphising ‘Him’ - making ‘Him’ seem like both a bigger god and at the same time a much bigger version of us. That is not to say that we aren’t ‘like’ God in some way - Genesis tells us God made us ‘in His image’.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Genesis 1:27

Somehow, we are representations of some aspects of God - but we have to be careful not to see God as an old, white, bearded, wise man sitting on a cloud. God does have human ‘aspects’ - indeed, Jesus, one third of the Holy Trinity, is both fully God and fully man at the same time. Jesus is, in a very real sense, the ‘human face’ of God; He is the ‘relatable’ part of the Godhead; He is the clearest revelation, or view, we have of God. But we have to be careful not to assume that the ‘other two’ parts are also ‘human’. I’m not explaining this very well - it’s beyond my limited skill with language.

I also frequently think that the Jewish habit of not using God’s name, but referring to God as ‘The Name’ is a good one - it's a useful reminder of God’s ‘otherness’ as well as reminder to be respectful. But in my opinion it also renders God too ‘remote’ and ‘unreachable’ somehow, for a God who has been (and is still in a sense?) incarnate, and whom we refer to as ‘Immanuel’ (God with us).

Let’s move on, having thoroughly baffled myself (and probably you too) and talk about pronouns.

The observant among you will no doubt have noticed that on this blog I have, until now, stuck resolutely to the traditional male pronouns for God - Him, His, etc. That is absolutely not because I see God as male. It is, instead, purely because, as poor as those pronouns are for referring to God, they are the ‘least awkward’ and ‘most consistent’. In other ‘places’ - Facebook groups and the like - I have ‘experimented’ with other ways of referring to God - trying to find ways of talking about God which remove or reduce the sense that ‘God is a big man’. I've used She and Her. That sort of works… Except that it feels as though it erects a sort of barrier between Jesus (who’s pretty clearly male) and the ‘rest of’ the Trinity. I’ve tried using S/he to refer to God - but it’s very hard then to come up with a non-gendered, non-awkward, ‘hers/his’. I’ve tried referring to God as ‘Them’ - but then I feel strongly as though I’m implying that God is a pantheon of three gods, and thereby denying that God is a Holy Trinity of Three in One and One in Three. I’ve tried using ‘God’ and ‘Godself’ and that fails too in some circumstances.

It really is very awkward. And I haven’t (yet) found a form with which I am comfortable, so until now I’ve continued to usethe traditional form - even though it annoys me just as much as the other forms, it has the (sole) virtue of being concise. But it’s still awkward. God isn’t male. God isn’t female either… Maybe God is both. And I hate the association of ‘God as male’ with patriarchy. God, arguably, is beyond gender, or even ‘ungendered’, but at the same time, both men and women bear the image of God, and both male and female reflect different aspects of God’s being and character.

It’s frustrating, but at the same time it’s a good thing in a way - because it forces me to wrestle with the issue. And I feel instinctively that, because God is transcendent, God ought to be hard to describe; hard to ‘pin down’ linguistically… But even then, perhaps that makes a ‘Someone’ who is immanent (with us) as well as transcendent (above and beyond everything), seem too ‘remote’.

So I am still stuck. I still don’t know what to do about this. I shall continue to think, and to experiment, but here on this blog, for now, I think I’ll stick with the traditional way of talking about God - with a somewhat heavy heart.

Copyright Phil Hendry, 2022