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Home > Interpreter Magazine > Archives > 2007 Archives > May-June 2007 > UMC 101: The Gender of God

UMC 101

The Gender of God

What does The United Methodist Church believe about the "gender" of God? Would a person be going against church belief if she were to stop using the pronoun "he" in hymns, substituting the word God instead?

God is a spirit; as such God is neither male nor female. However, because God is personal, it would be inappropriate to refer to God as "it."

It is natural for humans to invest God with human personal qualities, like gender.

There are many places in the Bible where God is portrayed with masculine characteristics and pronouns, but there are also biblical images where God is portrayed with feminine characteristics:

  • Deuteronomy 32:18 refers to God as the one who gives birth to creation.

  • Isaiah 42:14 reveals God crying aloud like a woman in labor.

  • Hosea 13:8 refers to God acting like a mother bear defending her cubs.

  • Psalm 131:2 shows the psalmist calmed "like a weaned child with its mother."

  • Psalm 22:9, Psalm 71:6 and Isaiah 66:9 use images of God as a midwife.

  • Isaiah 49:15 speaks of God being more faithful than a woman is to her nursing child.

  • Isaiah 66:13: God promises to comfort as a mother comforts her child.

  • Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34-35: Jesus longs to gather the people as a "hen gathers her brood."

While the use of a variety of names and images might seem contradictory and confusing, such a practice enables understanding the incomprehensibility of God. The use of a variety of names and images serves as a corrective measure against our tendency to take any single image literally.

-The Rev. J. Richard Peck is four-time editor of
Daily Christian Advocate of General Conference.

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