It is said that God created us in his own image. If so, was his image male because he created Adam first? Or, female, because he saved the best for last, Eve?

Both images are mentioned in the Scriptures. He is God, the Father in passages like Isaiah 64:8; and Jeremiah 3:4. But God also is described as a mother or acting as would a mother. There are examples in Genesis 1:27 and Hosea 13:8.

We asked the clergy: Does it matter if someone believes God is a male or a female figure?

Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, Jewish Congregation of Brookville:

I think the Jewish perspective is that God is neither man nor woman. Trying to define God in human terms leads to problems because God is only subject to divine definitions.

Maimonides said, "We can only talk about what God is not, not what God is."

The scriptural references to God as a man are poetic license. People can imagine God however they choose to imagine him. To really, truly understand God, you must realize that God is neither man nor woman. God is not human.

The beauty of the Hebrew language is that there are many different names for God. Some are feminine. Some are masculine. But all are just scratching at the surface. The beauty of the English language, on the other hand, is that you can make God gender neutral.

The Hebrew approach is "Let's get every name under the sun in there." The lesson I take from that is choose the name that speaks to you at that moment. My favorite name for him is haMakom, which literally means "the place." I think it is beautiful because God is where you find him, and what your need is directing you to.

Pastor Dennis Walker, Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Commack:

Our images and concepts of God matter greatly. It matters that we have one, but not whether we see God as a man or woman. Instead, we each should engage in a serious, good-faith search for a religious standard that can serve as source/rule/norm/authority for our talk about God. God is first and foremost a spirit who is beyond our understanding and whom we cannot fully know.

But, just as we can operate a computer or a car we do not fully understand, we can gain basic, serviceable information that will put us on the road to a relationship with the unknowable.

The source of revelation about God is the Bible for Christians and Jews -- different editions, of course. There are male and female images of God in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The male images tend to be more numerous because these ancient faith communities wanted to avoid female pagan "gods" and their temple prostitute cults. Also, for Christians, Jesus came as a male and spoke frequently of his Father in heaven. The New Testament attributes to the Holy Spirit the giving of birth "from above" to believers in Jesus, birth always being a female function (John 3:3).

We must understand that our images of God are a set of parameters to guide our search for him.

Father Valentine Rebello, St. Barnabas the Apostle, Bellmore:

From the Catholic perspective, God is always male. It is because of the cultural aspect. He is looked at as a father. For example, in prayer we say "God, the Father."

Of course, there are some who look at God as a mother figure, I think partly because of the nurturing, caring, loving aspect. God does care for us as would a mother, just as a mother bird is caring for her chicks.

The important thing is not whether you think of God as a man or woman, but rather that you have a relationship with God. It doesn't matter to him how you think of him. If God, the Mother, is the relationship you have with him then say "God, the Mother." It doesn't matter. What matters to God is that you have that relationship.

The Rev. Mary Chang, Lutheran Church of the Incarnation, Cedarhurst:

God is God, and is without any gender. It is we in humanity who want to use a gender description to explain God. It is human nature to use human language, human feelings, human experiences to describe and understand God. None of that makes any difference.

But, this is not new or restricted only to Christian, Western civilization. In Chinese culture there is the God Guan Yu. There was a lot of debate about whether the image should be male or female. Known as the Goddess of Mercy, she also has a male form. So, this gender debate is common to many cultures and spiritualities.

Regardless of which side you're on in the debate, God is God. It is we who are limited in our ability to describe and comprehend God. We, as humans, like to describe God through our own experiences and limitations. No terminology here on earth will change who or what God is. Faith is a journey which involves a theological, spiritual and physical understanding. We sometimes want to deny how limited we are by wanting to have a clearer understanding of things that we cannot fully understand.


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