NOT A PHYSICAL SEX
Human beings are the image of God. Human beings are female and male. The image of God is male and female.
God encompasses the categories of male and female. God transcends the categories of female and male.
The Bible is a product of a patriarchal culture. It uses mostly masculine images for God. Still, there are a few, scattered, feminine images for God to be found in Scripture. Recognizing the limitations of human language in describing the divine, it is legitimate to use both feminine and masculine images for God.
We can have a personal relationship with God. That is, we can relate to God as we relate to another person. God is not an object. God is not an "it."
We have no experience of persons who transcend the categories of male and female. The English language has no third person singular personal pronoun that encompasses and transcends the categories of female and male.
It is awkward, and nearly impossible to avoid the use of third person singular personal pronouns when speaking about a person, even when that person is God.
I was born and brought up in a time when humankind was collectively refered to as "man" as a matter of routine. The assumption underlying such a use is that maleness is the normal condition of humanity. The corollary to that assumption is that femaleness is a lesser or defective human state. Think about that. It's nuts.
In those distant days, God was refered to exclusively in masculine terms. Old habits die hard. I still sometimes call God "he." When I get called on it, my almost reflexive response is the title of this post: "God has a grammatical gender, not a phyiscal sex." That's pure banana oil, of course, but it usually buys me enough time to finish my thought without getting sidetracked by a discussion of gender language.
I am writing this post on the second day of a three day symposium in Chicago called "Language Matters." Hosted by the National Council of Churches, the symposium deals with inclusive (or "expansive") language concerns. When it is all over, I am sure that there will be head-shaking, finger-wagging and tongue-clucking from some quarters. But as for me, I applaud the intent of the symposium, pray for its success, and look forward to hearing about its proceedings.
Thirty-five or forty years ago, this clever, though amateurish bit of animation introduced me to inclusive language concerns. Take two minutes to enjoy a blast from the past.