Who (or What) is God?

who is god On a regular basis, I encounter folks who hold ideas about God that don’t really mesh with mine. Today, it was a woman who sees God as a) male and b) filled with wrath. Or, as she put it, God is a “just God who does display wrath. He disciplines His children who do not obey.” And, that, beloved, frames today’s question: is God male and does God display wrath?

Looking at the Old Testament, you’d be inclined to answer that with a resounding YES! God is consistently referred to with masculine pronouns and descriptions. And, from kicking Adam and Eve out of their idyllic existence in the Garden of Eden and into a life outside filled with pain and suffering to sparing only Noah and his family along with breeding pairs of animals to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah to allowing both Israelite kingdoms to be overrun by foreign invaders to teach them a lesson, God displays a ton of wrath. But, what if we understood that this presentation of God was a literary device?

In his book, A New Kind of Christianity, Brian McLaren says that the wrathful, masculine God of the Old Testament was used by the writers because it was an image the people of that time could accept. It was a patriarchal society, so God was described with male pronouns. In ancient times, if you were defeated in battle it meant the victor’s god was stronger than yours and, since no one wants to admit that someone else’s god is stronger than their own, the writers had to come up with a different interpretation. They proposed that God poured out His wrath to teach you a lesson or punish you for your apostasy. Of course, as religious thought and language progressed, a different picture of God began emerge; i.e.the loving parent Jesus talked about.   Unfortunately, even this more enlightened view has a flaw.

The flaw is that the Bible clearly defines God as a spirit. It says so many places, including Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. Now, if God is a spirit, then God isn’t really male or female; God exists on a plane above such trivialities. For me, it also means that God doesn’t pour out wrath and isn’t a “loving parent” either. Like McLaren, I think these are anthropomorphized images designed to help us understand a concept that can’t be phrased in human terms.

Of course, this begs the question, if God isn’t any of these things, what is God? The best answer I can come up with goes back to something I learned as a child in Sunday school: God is love. And, love doesn’t pour out wrath or favor one gender over another. Love just loves.