The way that I view God has changed. Dramatically. It used to be that when I would think about God, I would picture an old man in the sky. This worked out well. I grew up in a small town where I knew some old men. They were mostly friendly, worked hard, and gave me no reason to be afraid of them. If a pronoun was to be used for God, it was exclusively male. When I would hear Bible stories or see artists’ renditions Jesus there seemed to be a lot of white men with beards.

So, kind of like 2016 in that respect.

This is the influence of a Western culture with a long history of powerful patriarchy. For most people, it seems to be a foregone conclusion that God is a man. All through the bible we read about how God “gave his only son.” Old hymns talk about how “This is my father’s world.” So, it only makes sense that we believe the things we say. But, it doesn’t make sense for us not to question it.

There are problems with God being a man. But many of these problems are rooted in the views of masculinity and femininity that are perpetuated in the world around us. For example, we have pigeon-holed people into what are, in essence, binary roles. We associate masculinity with words like strong, powerful, aggressive, confident, rational, competitive, and unrelenting. In comparison, we associate the idea of femininity with words like emotional, dependent, submissive, soft, accepting, passive, quiet, compassionate, and loving. These are just words. I wonder what sort of associations you’ve already made in reading these lists. What meanings have you drawn from these? Do you see one as being better? More desirable?

In and of themselves, these lists are simply words and outside of cultural processes that assign value to each of these traits, they are simply descriptors. However, we live in a society that, in most circles, prefer the masculine traits. Not all cultures are this way and there is plenty of value that we have given to the feminine traits too. But they’re not equal – one is clearly preferred. Check any list of elected officials, CEOs, leaders of industry, leaders of churches, influencers of just about any kind, and you’ll find that masculinity is highly favored.

But it’s more complicated than this. We tend to see these ideas as locked into pretty stringent categories. We see a human that has physical characteristics and appearance of a male and our cultural bias says that this person should also be masculine in how they live their lives. If we meet another person who has the physical appearance of a female but is competitive, assertive, and unrelenting, we often label her a bitch.

We see these groupings as mutually exclusive. A true man cannot exhibit feminine qualities and a proper woman should carry herself with a certain softness, knowing that to emasculate a man is a significant sin in our culture. Is there a more prominent metaphor for this in our culture than penis size? Locker rooms across the West are filled with men who’s identity is closely tied to their ability to project virility and strength. It is about competition. It is about becoming the alpha – the top dog. It is about dominating.

Many of us don’t know what to do when we encounter people that vary from these categories. There’s cognitive dissonance. There’s discomfort. There’s ignorance.

And this is why I’m sure God does not have a penis.

The truth is that masculinity and femininity are not opposite ends of a spectrum. They’re not mutually exclusive concepts. Both of these categories represent ideas that are valuable to all of us. The man who sees value in developing their sense of self-compassion, their willingness to give instead of take, the ability to suppress their power to lift someone else higher is a man whose own sense of self has expanded. It’s not compromised because he has given way to someone else. It is larger and more expansive because he is now able to recognize the value of both.

The woman who is able to push back against society’s expectations and exude self-confidence over self-critique, to refuse to be passive but to stand up for what is right, to claim independence and strength, her reality has expanded too. It is not her role to sit idly by. It is not just for her to be judged by a different set of standards. In asserting herself, she is not a bitch but an independent, confident woman. If you perceive this as a threat to your manhood, then this says more about you than it does about her.

I get it. Humans really like categories. Categories help us understand. Categories help us survive. But there are somethings that simply will never fit into categories. There are somethings that are bigger than categories. Sometimes, we have experiences that expand our ideas about what truth really is.

When we give God human qualities – like gender – we limit God. We box God in. We enforce our standards for what it means to be a man or a woman on the divine. If God is a man, then our biases mean that aggressiveness, dominance, and force win out over compassion, caring, and concern. If God is a man, then we see him in competition with all of the other male gods. He’s in heaven’s locker room, arguing about who’s is bigger and making lewd comments about the bitches on earth.

That God is a god who would say that my team is better than your team.

That God would get angry if you ever called him out.

That God would have a big gun and wouldn’t be afraid to use it.

What a juvenile, self-centered God that would be.

Art at the 21c Museum Hotel in Louisville (Including a Michelangelo inspired Statue of David)” by LuAnn Snawder is licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0