The Facebook status read: “The Hebrew word Ruach (Spirit) is of the feminine gender. Weird”
When I saw it, not many folks had commented. As a person who makes his living in part due to his limited knowledge of linguistics, I thought of cautioning folks about putting too much stock in the “gender” of words. Then I decided that I might come across as condescending and refrained from any comment…but not from thinking about the gender(s) of God.
Jesus once told his audience that God is spirit. He wasn’t instructing them on God’s gender so much as he was telling them what type of worship this spirit-being wants. My first inclination is to leap upon the word “spirit” and say that spirits don’t have gender and therefore neither does God. Yet, as I think some more about it, I don’t know that I can confidently state that spirits don’t have gender. When the Bible speaks about spirits, it seems to assume a fundamental understanding of what’s being talked about and leaves off anything like a definition. So, perhaps I’m wrong and spirits, like humans, are gendered beings. Going back to my friends Facebook status: perhaps God is female because God is spirit and spirit in Hebrew is a word in the feminine gender…but I don’t think that’s the case.
God, whether or not he actually is a he, has allowed himself to be represented in the Scriptures as male. That’s clear enough. When God incarnated in Jesus, he came as a male. Also clear. When Jesus referred to God, he referred to him in male terms like “father”. All this seems to be enough for me to say that in so much that a spirit being has gender, God’s gender is male…except for when it isn’t.
Sounds contradictory? Perhaps. But God is a trinity; three distinct persons comprising a single being. Perhaps not all persons in the trinity share the same gender? Maybe that person we call “God the Father” is male while that person we call “God the Spirit” is female.
Does it matter if God is male or female? Well, I suppose that what we say about God and the way we talk about God is quite important. At the very least, it says something about what we believe to be true about God, and what we believe about God certainly impacts our behavior toward other people. And yet, is it really important to refer to God in gender specific terms? Are we sinning if we deviate from Scripture (and tradition ) and begin to speak of God in either feminine or neuter terms?