Beyond Language and Conception

Beyond Language and Conception

Photo by Emily Miller.

Photo by Emily Miller.

One of the prominent aspects of theological discussion around campus is gender-inclusive language regarding pronouns for God. I think this conversation evidences both a willingness to entertain new ideas as well as a deviation from Biblical truth. But my opinion regarding this topic isn’t what I believe relating to God, but what I see this conversation pointing to about our collective faith.

What happens if you accidentally address your female friend with a male pronoun? Likely giggling, and possibly some contemplation of Freud. The point is, pronouns don’t impact or affect relationships—they are merely shorthand referents to prevent redundancy in constantly having to say someone’s name. If that’s the case, then why do we make such a ruckus about the gender image of God? Are not our pronouns simply words that are meant to address an Almighty infinitely beyond our capacity to comprehend? Is not quibbling about pronouns silly at best, and an insult to God at worst?

I think this tendency of ours to discuss, debate—and, really, do everything but worship and praise and commune with each other and God—stems from a much deeper problem. When people talk about God, God is inevitably conceptualized, or crammed into a word or words that can be managed by the human brain. We talk about God because ultimately, to us God is a concept. God is an abstraction, not reality, and thus conceptual trivialities like gender take on enormous importance, because the god of our minds needs to have attributes, like gender, to complete it as a concept. Furthermore, gender is so hotly debated because this god of ours, this pet god or goddess, won’t be something that we don’t want—it’s ours! And we’re going to make it have the attributes we want.

Thus, when other people start using language and concepts that disagree with our god/goddess concept, we get defensive because our concept is invalidated. Our concept is excluded. And that offends us.

On the other hand, if we actually believe in God or Goddess as an ultimate reality, we’ll develop an existential relation to this Being. We’ll actually move with it, and communicate with it, and it will move us! And one of the things it will show us is absurdity of talking about God—it’s like talking about the sun, or maybe the galaxy. No one does it, except to refer to its presence or influence, because it’s obviously beyond any scope we can imagine. Let us realize God is far beyond the sun and galaxy. And let us hold our peace regarding this issue, if for nothing else than a universal understanding of who God isn’t—a concept with attributes that need to be quibbled over.

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Written by Annalisa Harder

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