Opinion: Genesis Tells Us That God is So Much More Than Just One Gender
We are all familiar with envisioning God as our Father in Heaven, but is this the only way to image God? While masculine metaphors may dominate hymns, prayers, and sermons, the creation stories of Genesis are fertile ground for uncovering different interpretations of God’s relationship with gender.
Many of us in the church can find it difficult to relate to a Father God, or want a greater variety of images as we seek to understand God’s expansive nature. Using he/him/his pronouns and focusing on parenthood is a valid way of relating to God, but it is not the only one. Fortunately, Biblical scholars and preachers of the Word have delved into other gendered expressions of God.
In her book Womanist Midrash: A Reintroduction to the Women of the Torah and the Throne, Biblical scholar and Episcopal priest Rev. Dr Wil Gafney re-translates parts of the Hebrew Bible from the original language. Her purpose is to find the gaps where women and the divine feminine have been overlooked, either by translators or the text’s authors, and to write into these gaps by drawing on both her Biblical knowledge and her lived experience as an African-American woman. This practice of “Womanist Midrash” when applied to the beginning of Genesis reveals a startling reading.
Gafney translates Genesis 1:1-2 as follows: “In the beginning, He, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and shapeless, and darkness covered the face of the deep, while She, the Spirit of God, pulsed over the face of the waters.”
Gafney explains that the Spirit of God is gendered feminine in the original Hebrew, and she expands on the second verse to lean into this divine femininity.
“She, the Spirit of God, She-who-is-also-God, at the dawn of creation fluttered over the nest of her creation at the same time as He, the more familiar expression of divinity, created all. They, Two-in-One, are the first articulations, self-articulations, of God in (and the God of) the Scriptures. God is female and male, and when God gets around to creating creatures in the divine image, they will be female and male, as God is.”
Gafney’s interpretation is that God contains both femininity and masculinity – that gender diversity exists within Godself – just as gender diversity exists within and among human beings.
It is impossible to discuss God and gender diversity without consulting theological scholarship by transgender and non-binary people. Father Shannon Kearns is the co-founder of Queer Theology, an organisation of “queer, trans Christians creating the theology of our liberation.” He finds in Genesis a comforting message that all people are made in the image of God.
Kearns writes on the Queer Theology website, “God’s image is made up of all of our images. And God’s image appears in all of us. Which means that transgender people are as much a part of the image of God as everyone else. It means that God is found in my scars and in my changing face.”
He goes further to argue that this reveals something about the nature of God: “When it comes right down to it, the experience of transgender people is an even better portrayal of the image of God than cisgender people because in a transgender person we get a sense of the shifting nature of God’s image. God’s image reflects the diversity of all of God’s creation. Creation that, since the beginning, God has declared good.”
United Methodist deacon M Barclay claims that binary interpretations of the Genesis creation stories – of “male” and “female” as distinct and exclusive categories – are limiting.
They argue instead that, “This chapter talks about night and day and land and water, but we have dusk and we have marshes. These verses don’t mean ‘there’s only land and water, and there’s nowhere where these two meet.’ These binaries aren’t meant to speak to all of reality—they invite us into thinking about everything between and beyond.”
This claim, when combined with Kearns’ assertions about the nature of God, leads us to the conclusion that because human beings are female, male, cisgender, transgender, and non-binary, God also encompasses all these genders, because we are created in God’s image.
By listening to voices from the margins, we are able to de-centre the image of Father God as the sole or most important conception of God. There is a plethora of meaningful ways to understand the relationship between God and gender. God’s gender diversity is reflected in each and every human being, and Genesis tells us so.
Gabrielle Cadenhead is Insights’ Intern