We cannot remake God, Conversation on Gender with Owen StrachanAugust 19, 2016
In an opinion piece, which appeared over the weekend in the New York Times, Rabbi Mark Sameth claims the Bible’s view of gender is “highly elastic.”
He writes: “The Israelites took the transgender trope from their surrounding cultures and wove it into their own sacred scripture. The four-Hebrew-letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for “He/She.” Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.”
This is a worldview discussion not just taking place in the op-ed pages of the New York Times or in ivory tower academia. It reaches into our daily lives through the media, our education system, and entertainment. Because if you can change God, then is God really God? If God can not be trusted on the matter of who God is, then why would you trust God to know and communicate the truth about anything else?
The writer of the op-ed reveals his own view of the Old Testament, which he calls the Hebrew scriptures, when he says the Israelites integrated pagan ideas from the “surrounding cultures and wove them it into their own sacred scriptures.” Read it again. Where is the revelation of God?
Then we read this critical sentence: “Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel – the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong – was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.” If true, consider the ramifications of such a claim.
To help us understand these issues, I had a conversation with Owen Strachan on Monday. Owen is the Director of The Center for Theological and Cultural Engagement at Midwestern Seminary.
Is God Transgender?
Owen reminds us, “What we need to be very clear about is the Bible does not teach us God is a “man” in the sense He has male anatomy or physical characteristics. But the Bible does represent God in male terms, as in the Fatherhood of God. This is from start to finish in the Bible- not just the Old testament but the New Testament. For example, when Jesus teaches His disciples to pray, he says to pray, Our Father.”
What the op-ed author misses is the biblical distinction that although God manifests both masculine and feminine characteristics, God is neither male nor female as we are, but Spirit. God is not a gendered being and God is certainly not a transgendered being. The author of the op-ed is so confused his own language is flawed. He’s actually arguing God is all-gender or omni-gendered, not trans. Either way, the author is seeking to remake God to conform to his ideology.
Why does this matter?
Trying to reinterpret or change the Name of God has massive consequences on our theology because what we are actually talking about is the very character of God.
Owen on this: “We do not have the freedom to remake our God. The name of our God is of paramount significance. This is more than a nameplate. God’s name speaks to His very identity and character. This is of massive importance for Christians.”
The author of the op-ed claims to have the authority to change the design by re-imagining the Designer in his own image, in effect putting himself in the place of God.
God the Creator
Our understanding of being, identity, relevance and yes, human sexuality is directly connected to the reality of who God is as revealed in the Bible.
In the Word of God we plainly read, “[I]n His image, male and female, God created them” (Genesis 1:27, 5:2, Matthew 19:4). So this is simply not one of those times where there is any debate about which came first, the chicken or the egg? God is eternal, we are temporal. God is infinite, we are finite. God is Creator, we are creatures. God is immutable, we are pliable, conforming to His will. God is, that is revealed His name, YHWH, the great “I AM.”
Owen: “If you redefine God, you are free to redefine humanity. Or if you want to redefine humanity, you are invariably tweaking your understanding of God.”
“Christians have a stake in engaging both of those fronts culturally. We have to make very clear God made mankind, male and female for His glory and out of His infinite wisdom and creative power. Also, God Himself is represented in Scripture in male terms. We cannot redefine either of those realities and those are both major matters for us doctrinally.”
The op-ed author fails to see it is words and their meaning which are elastic and not the Word of God. Yes, the Hebrew is elastic and sometimes generic in terms of gender-specific pronouns, but so is English. Sometimes I’m one of the guys and sometimes a lone male in the context of an otherwise women-only setting is just one of the girls. No one imagines the anatomically genetically female or male person in those scenarios is suddenly, momentarily nor eternally transgender.
As you read and listen to the varied opinions and editorial comments of others (including me), you must do with a discerning mind seeking to sort out the Truth from error. God has given us freedom of the will and in America we have the freedom to express all kinds of ideas. Not all ideas are equal and those that do not conform to the revealed Truth of who God is must be disregarded by the Christian. The article under discussion is thus relegated for use as floor covering for the bird cage.
Listen to entire interview with Owen Strachan: