Wednesday, March 31, 2010

God is gender-neutral, He is spirit

Are women sons or daughters of God?
Recently, a prophetess came into our midst, left a saying to the effect that women are sons of God, not daughters. This got some people thinking, particularly, I believe it attracted the attention of a sister. This sister is quite curious about what I can come up with, “Are women sons or daughters of God?” I meditated a little on this question and did a little research as well. I believe what I believe is reliable and my little research did not change that. But before we go into details, maybe we should ask ourselves, how important this question is, or similar questions of whether or not, God is a male or female; whether the Holy Spirit is a female.

What is your motive?
Actually, we need to search our hearts of the motives behind the question or questions. I suspect one prime motive has its root from competitive spirit, and that will not be right. If it is on chauvinism that we are seeking answer to the questions, then our seeking will not be pleasing.

How important are these gender questions to you?
Back to the question of how important is such a question, each individual has to ask him or herself whether your knowing the answer will affect your salvation in anyway; will affect how you look at God (or the Holy Spirit). For example, I believe there are some pre-believers or backslidden believers who are holding onto the views that God is male-chauvinistic or there has been a male-chauvinism conspiracy in propagation of the faith since the past. Although it is not the same thing, we know for example, many people are not embracing the faith, or have backslidden from the faith when they view that there are many hypocrites in the body of Christ.

Nature of God in relation to gender issue
Rather than just answering the question directly, I decided to write on the more fundamental issue of the nature of God in relation to the question. I will answer the question as an implication or derivative from that nature of God.

God is spirit, so God is gender-neutral
First thing first, that we talk about gender, we are regarding God as a person. Is this visualization correct? I believe it is correct. God is a person not a force; God exhibits all the characteristics of personhood. God has a mind, a will, and emotions. God communicates and He has relationships, and God’s personal actions were evidenced throughout Scripture, and in our daily lives.

God is spirit. John 4:24 states, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Since God is a spiritual being, He does not possess physical human characteristics but He can take on physical form. Also, sometimes figurative language is used in Scripture to assign human characteristics to God in order to make it possible for man to understand God. The assignment of human characteristics to describe God is called “anthropomorphism”, and it is meant to help us to understand who God is.

God is spirit, and I believe God, being a spirit, is gender-neutral, i.e. neither male nor female. One may assess gender based on other criteria, but I am basically referring to the physical characteristics. Because God is spirit, and not physical at all, there cannot be a gender to God. I am not saying that God cannot take on a physical form; He can but He is spirit. When we talk about gender, we often time would touch on the subject of reproduction or pro-creation. If my Science learning of yesteryears did not fail me, very minute organism such as Amoeba does reproduce itself without the necessity of both a male and female counterparts. It reproduces itself asexually by fissions (splitting into 2 or even more, under certain conditions). Scripture told us nothing about spiritual reproduction or that in Heaven there are any kind of reproduction. Not that they were spiritual reproduction, there are 2 accounts of “births” in the Scriptures which we should perhaps look at, in a while. Many of the other “births” in Scripture are really creations of God, rather than in any sense, reproduction or pro-creation. For example, God created and perhaps still creates angels. We do not think of God reproducing angels. Also, we do not read of angels reproducing themselves, in Scripture. I believe it is so for the angels, perhaps, because they are created spirits as well. Demons and devils, too, I believe, do not reproduce or pro-create like human or even animal does, for the same reasons as the angels. In fact, for those who share with me the same belief, demons and devils were once angels of God; it was just that they have rebelled against God along with Lucifer, the once Archangel of God. I am glad that spirits do not reproduce, or we will have troubles without ends; it is bad enough they do not die; it will be horrendous if they increase in number by the days.

The begetting of the Son of God
Lets us now look at the 2 “births” I referred to above before we talked about other related issues. First, we look at the birth of the Son of God. I am referring to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, but no, I am not referring to the birth of Jesus by the woman, Mary, in the manger in Bethlehem. Scripture is clear that the Son of God did not come in existence when He was born by Mary. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not Mary giving birth to Jesus Christ, and then Jesus Christ becoming the Son of God after crucifixion and resurrection to Heaven. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the begotten Son of God, having witnessed The Fall of Man, agreeing to the making of the sacrifice of leaving Heaven to come down to earth to be born a man, lived as a man, died like a man, even death by crucifixion, so that man could be reconciled back to God, and that man could find his way back to God in the freedom as sons of God. Scripture recorded for us that the Word who is Jesus Christ was at The Creation; everything was created in and through and for Him. Just as a side, let us also be very clear that man is not the result of reproduction or pro-creation by God. Man is a creation by God.

So, if I was not referring to the birth of Jesus Christ by mortal woman Mary, then what birth was I referring to? We human, with our limited understanding basically want to hear that a son was born, but the Son of God was said in the Scripture to have been begotten by the Father, right from the beginning. Of course, this brief revelation in the Bible begs 2 questions, one of which is how was the Son begotten, and two, when was that. When I look up the dictionary on the word, “beget”, it has principally 2 meanings, one being to father; and two, to cause to exist, in other words having the connotation of creating. The former meaning (of fathering) is with emphasis on the male parent. I believe it would not be wrong to say that in olden days’ usage, one can only say a male begets a child; you probably cannot say a female begets a child. But words are words, whether in Hebrew or Greek, Scripture said no word can fully describe God. Perhaps, “beget” is but the best word to describe the appearance of Jesus on the scene. Even if we may think that the word “beget” may suggest connotation of presence of a counterpart to the begetting, the word “create” also would, perhaps, not be appropriate to be used on Jesus. If it was possible for Amoeba to beget without a counterpart, why can’t it be possible for God to beget His Son Jesus Christ without a counterpart. Please, I am not suggesting that Jesus came into existence through the splitting of God into 2. I just do not know how Jesus came about, and I just accept that my understanding is limited. When did Jesus come about? Scripture said that God is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. So when is the beginning? Is it important to us when exactly that beginning was? Not to me. Likewise, it was not important to me when Jesus was begotten, it matters only that He was there even before The Creation.

The birth in the Last Book
The other birth that we are going to look at very briefly, is the birth found in the last book of the Bible, in the Book of Revelation. The whole chapter 12 of Revelation was devoted to the vision that the writer of Revelation (John) had, concerning a woman and a dragon. The woman in the vision was pregnant and she gave birth to a child. I am just going to put a link here to Revelation 12, but I will not go into the details, because it was a description of a complicated vision, which often time, can be difficult to interpret, and there are a few interpretations (It will take a whole long separate article to talk about it). It suffices to mention that one interpretation links this vision to the birth of Jesus, and if indeed it is correct, it is only referring to the birth of Jesus on earth (perhaps, with corresponding spiritual realm happenings), it is not referring to the original begetting of Jesus. Other interpretations major on symbolisms, but they too do not imply the original begetting of Jesus. I say we just accept it that Jesus is the begotten Son of God, full-stop.

Gender-neutrality applies to all 3 members of the Trinity
Right at the onset I said God is gender-neutral. But God can either be the Father God, the Holy Spirit or the Son, Jesus Christ. I was referring to the Father God. Then what about the Holy Spirit? I believe it is the same, God or Father God is gender-neutral; the Holy Spirit is too. Even Jesus Christ is gender-neutral. But, you may say, Jesus Christ was a man. Yes, Jesus Christ was a man when He walked on the earth. In His divine state, He is spirit, and gender-neutral. This is my belief, all three members of the Trinity being spirit in their divine nature, are gender-neutral. The possibility that Jesus may still take on a physical form that somewhat resembles a man more than a woman in appearance does not negate the underlying reality that in His divine nature He is spirit, gender-neutral. But there is, of course, nothing wrong for us to picture Him as a “He”. Since God called Him, Son in the manner that we understand the word, we should just continue to address Jesus as “He”. Likewise, since Jesus referred to God as the Father; we should just continue to address Jesus’ Father as Father God or God the Father, and not Mother God.

We pattern after God, not the other way round
We return for a moment on the ‘begetting’ theme. Now, just because begetting may suggest a counterpart, it does not mean that the Holy Spirit is a female. It also does not mean that since there is the Father, and the Son, there must be the Mother, or that the Holy Spirit is the Mother or the Holy Spirit must be a female. We are created in the image of God, we are a creation given a certain manner of multiplication in numbers or pro-creation, but it does not mean that when we have father and mother as a child, it necessarily means that the Trinity is Father, Son and Mother. We have to be very careful in using Romans 1:20 to back our argument. I reproduce Romans 1:20 here –

For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:20).

Please pardon me for being crude; that God created man to shit the way we shit does not mean that God likewise shit the way we shit or even shit at all. We are His creation, created in His image, in some respect, we pattern after God, but God does not pattern after us. I am not saying there is no relevance of Romans 1:20 even in a matter of shitting. This is how I will look at it: Wow! Look how wonderfully the whole digestive system of man is. We consume food by the mouth; the food passes through our body, yet is still outside of our body. Various secretions come out of our body to digest the food; and the nutrients then get absorbed into our body, leaving the waste, which passes along, without its decay affecting the lining of our body, and eventually leave our body in controlled fashion. How can such a system just happened, someone must have “engineered” it. How great are His wisdom and knowledge! What great power He has! And that someone is the Divine God. This is how men are without excuse; not because we shit, God also must shit!

Grammatical considerations
Now, there are many articles that looked at this matter from grammatical considerations. Scholars looked at the Hebrew, and the Greek, depending on whether one was looking at the Old Testament or the New Testament, and tried to say that certain words implied masculinity and certain others, femininity. Hebrew and Greek are not the only languages; there are the Aramaic, Syraic, Latin, etc. When you look at words used for the Holy Spirit or spirit, for example, you get different results with different languages and different words. Spirit in Latin (“spiritus”), is masculine; in Hebrew ("רוח") or ruach, is feminine; in Aramaic and Syraic, is feminine; and in Greek ("πνεῦμα") or pneuma, is neuter (neutral). The word Comforter which was also used on the Holy Spirit is masculine in Greek (“Parakletos“) whilst we have just said the Greek word, pneuma for spirit, is neutral. What am I saying? I am saying when grammatical gender is confused with physical gender, the Holy Spirit is then thought of as male, female or neither.

My own belief is that physical gender is not relevant when we are talking about God, whether for God, the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Secondly, there both masculine and feminine attributes in God, just like God has the attributes of holiness, love, and compassion, etc. The interplay of the various attributes is definite but we obviously lack the full understanding of the wisdom of God to know how much of what goes with what. For example, the holiness of God may call into play the masculinity attributes when punishment appeared necessary, but at the same time, love and mercy come into play. When different attributes are at work, depending on what are at work, certain words in languages are invoked to describe what is going on. We should not be too hang-up with the pronoun used. God (whether the Father God, the Son, or the Holy Spirit) has neither too much masculinity nor femininity, just the right balance. Jesus in Luke 13:34, for example, spoke about Jerusalem, how He longed to gather up the people, like a mother hen (femininity portrayed) would do, her chicks.

Luke 13:34 - O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!

Also, Jesus was a man when He walked on earth, but do you know that Jesus has also been seen as the incarnation of Divine Wisdom (sophia, grammatically feminine, in Greek).

I have said that we should continue to use the masculine pronoun for God the Father, and the Son, Jesus. What about the Holy Spirit? Martin Luther was reported to have used feminine terms to speak of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, the use of masculine pronoun for the Holy Spirit is still the norm, and for consistency in usage on God, I do not see any change is needed.

Battle of the sexes should not cloud the reality of God
I honestly feel that the “battle of the sexes’ based on physical gender motivation should not be allowed to cloud the reality of God. We all need to be careful in implying that God was not fair and sexist. It is best to just follow the commands and precepts given in the Word of God for righteous living for all; for the men or for the women, if they are distinctly marked as gender-specific, rather than to come up with, based on our own understanding, models of our own. For example a model saying the Holy Spirit is the heavenly pattern of the women (there is such a model being taught) would leave men wondering what to do with the Holy Spirit or His/Her(?) teachings, and would require re-interpretation of the understandings of what are the roles of the Holy Spirit as expounded by Jesus before He went to the Cross. The Holy Spirit is for all believers, men and women, alike.

Now, are women sons or daughters of God?
The sister who had wanted to know whether women are sons or daughters of God, please do not be upset with me for not having answered your curiosity yet. Here is the answer:

First, we have understood that God is spirit, and God is gender-neutral. Next, we need to understand the nature of man. Man is body, soul and spirit, tripartite. For those we want to have a deeper understanding on the nature of man, you can read my separate article, “Man is body, soul and spirit”. In line with the understanding of nature of man, I believe that when a person dies, his body decays, and what is left is the spirited soul who will live on.

Some people like to say that the spirit lives on, making no reference to the soul. I believe (read the article to get my line of reasoning) it is the spirit of man, created by the breath of God at The Creation that enables the soul of man to live on. Of those who believe that it is the spirit who lives on, some believe that the spirit will be devoid of everything, or that he or she will be like a blank sheet all over again. I beg to differ; I believe our souls live on (as one with the spirit, or as the spirited soul), meaning we will know who are, and will know and recognize people in Heaven.

I have an aged mother, and one day, my sibling sisters asked the old lady if she had any concerns. My mother asked her daughters if she would recognize her deceased husband (my father) in Heaven. My sisters assured my mother that our father, her husband will be Heaven (He was saved before he died of cancer), but also told her that she will not recognize him. When this was related to me, I told my mother (and my sisters), that was not correct. My mother will recognize her husband; it is just that they are no longer in marital covenant. When I get to Heaven, I will recognize my earthly father, and he will know I was his son on earth. I believe this is possible because the soul is not destroyed.

The Book of Revelation only talked about us taking on a new incorruptible body, not that we become new completely, a blank sheet all over again. What kind of body is that, I mean the incorruptible body? Does it look like me at the prime of my life? We do not know; the Bible did not say. We just know that we will get an incorruptible body, meaning possibly it will not die and decay like the one we are currently having. If you are woman, will you look like a woman? The Scripture is silent on that. How then can I say that my mother would recognize her husband in Heaven? Apart from the belief that the soul is not destroyed, indirectly some of the stories and parables in the Bible pointed to this.

There is a story in the Luke’s Gospel (Luke 16:19-31) about a rich man and a beggar, called Lazarus, who used to beg at the rich man’s mansion gate. Both the rich man and the beggar died, but the rich man ended up in Hades, and Lazarus, with the Patriarch Abraham. If you read the story, the rich man could recognize both Lazarus and Abraham.

In the same gospel book, we read of the Parable of the Shrewd Manager (Luke 16: 1-9). Verse 9, I believe, implies that the friends we make here on earth and who are saved, they will know us when we get to heaven; it will be as if they will be there to welcome us. How can that be possible if we do not “recognize” one and another. As to how we will still know, when our brains are gone when we die, I do not know. God is able; He has a solution for that, maybe a remote storage, who knows!

Now, coming back to the question of whether women are sons or daughters of God, of course, while alive on earth, women are best said to be daughters of God. The world would be confusing if we start calling a boy, a girl, and a girl, a boy; or a son, daughter, and a daughter, a son. So really, the prophetess was referring to either in the spirit realm or she was talking about our status when we get to Heaven. For the latter, I believe, like other spiritual beings in Heaven, God, or angels, man will be gender-neutral, whether or not there will be something (say, in the name, or a mark, etc) to denote our previous (earthly) gender, I really do not know. As such, a son and a daughter will be the same, as each is still gender-neutral. Whether or not God will continue to call a woman (her earthly gender) a daughter, I really do not know. Maybe He will continue to call daughters, daughters, and sons, sons; maybe He may call everybody sons (since He calls Jesus, Son); but my belief is that our spirited souls will be gender-neutral. This will mean that in Heaven, there will not be reproduction or pro-creation the way we understand the terms to be. Firstly, Scripture said that upon death, the marital covenant ceases to exist, i.e. your wife is no longer your wife in Heaven. I believe you will know she was your wife in your earthly life though. I believe there is no more marriages in Heaven for 2 reasons: One, if there are marriages in Heaven with pro-creation, it would not have been necessary, on a continual basis over the years, to have man lived on, and be saved through the acceptance of Jesus (Mankind on earth could have just stopped at The Flood, for example). Heaven can populate itself, and there will not be a need for us to be gathered to Heaven to populate it. Two, without pro-creation, even if there is subsequently any kind of covenant between different souls in Heaven, it will not really be marital covenant as such. Do not worry, those of you who remarried after your spouse died, when you reach Heaven, you won’t have the dilemma of choosing your wife, because none will be your wife!

I believe, sister E, I have answered your question; all of us will be spirited souls who are gender-neutral. What God calls us afterwards is altogether a different question; He may choose to continue to call us sons and daughters or He may call us all sons (since He calls Jesus, Son), or He may address us all by our names; it is all up to Him.

Anthony Chia - Something is with clue in Scripture, and something is without. For the latter, it is all guess work even if we indeed get it right.

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