What would provoke such harsh declarations? The writer of those words goes on to identify the reason: “capitalized, masculine pronouns in…every description of God.”
These severe pronouncements appeared in a recent Amazon book review of my book Daily Reflections on the Names of God. This review didn’t make me angry. It broke my heart. Not because someone didn’t like the devotional. That did make me sad, but my heart aches because this person considers capitalized male pronouns in reference to our heavenly Father to be offensive and oppressive.
An Ongoing Battle
For thousands of years, the multiplication of sin across humanity has slowly and inexorably destroyed the joy of our gender identities. It has corrupted the blessing of family roles. Men—even Christian men—have abused their positions, failing to love their wives as Christ loved the Church and lacking grace and tenderness in their leading. Women have responded out of frustration, throwing off the shackles of abuse.
And the enemy rejoices. By destroying God-ordained roles in marriage and families, he has also destroyed our joy in relating to God as Father. Because, whether we prefer it or not, God has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word as a father-figure (and yes, I intentionally capitalized the pronoun!).
We’ve seen the battles played out over the Internet, especially in recent months. Writers quote Scripture to support their position and dismiss the validity of those who disagree. Women claim the male descriptions are obstacles to viewing themselves as formed in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).
All this while an unbelieving world watches.
Male Role Models
Few things are as heartrending as a father who betrays the trust of his children. Accounts of children who have been physically and sexually abused are tragic. When the abuser is the child’s own father or a father-figure, the reports are even more appalling. Yet these crimes are increasingly commonplace.
Even more heartbreaking is the knowledge that those who have been betrayed by their earthly fathers often go on to reject their heavenly Father. They find it painful to relate to any father-figure, including God.
But God isn’t just another imperfect father figure. He’s not a deadbeat dad, a philandering papa, or an absentee parent. He is the perfect, holy creator of the universe. He is faithful, righteous, and just. He is always present, loving, and merciful. Regardless of our family circumstances, good or bad, we can choose not to allow the failures of earthly fathers to limit our view of our heavenly Father.
Still, the failure of earthly fathers has led to a dismaying movement in our society: the denial of the fatherhood of God. This growing movement to deny God as Father permeates our society with dangerous results. If He is not our Father, then we are not accountable to Him. If we’re not accountable to Him, then sin is not a problem. And if sin is not a problem, then we do not need a Savior. The consequences of this reasoning are more than bad—they are eternal.
God is not restricted by human gender and sexuality. Still, the Bible uses anthropomorphic illustrations—human characteristics—to help us understand His nature and His ways.
He chose to reveal Himself in His Word through male images. He described Himself as both the Father of the nation of Israel (Hosea 11:1), our Father (Matthew 6:9), and King (Psalm 47:7).
He also used female metaphors to portray His attributes. He described Himself as a mother bear and a lioness (Hosea 13:8), and a comforting mother (Isaiah 66:13).
But God is neither male nor female. He is Spirit (John 4:24). Exodus 20:4 and Deuteronomy 4:15-17 warn us to never make an image of God, male or female. And God reminds us in Hosea 11:9 that He is not a man. The use of anthropomorphism merely gives us something to which we can relate: finite illustrations to help explain an infinite God.
Still, God chose to use male pronouns to refer to Himself in His Word. Those pronouns are important. Who are we to correct Him?
And the book review for Daily Reflections on the Names of God? The same reviewer also noted, “it is an insightful and relevant source to anyone who wants to know God from a variety of perspectives….I understand using a capital letter (He, His, Him) is a sign of respect….”
Whether we choose to capitalize pronouns for deity or not, may we all maintain a high view of God and retain respect for His nature and His ways.
Ava Pennington teaches a Bible Study Fellowship class. She is also the author of Daily Reflections on the Names of God: A Devotional, published by Revell Books and endorsed by Kay Arthur.