Does God Speak Like a Woman?
We have become familiar with the idea that men and women communicate differently, and for different purposes. Of course, this generalization must be qualified in a host of ways, depending upon individual personalities, mood, situation (when transacting business women can sound like men), and so forth.
Still, relatively speaking, significant differences distinguish the ways in which men and women speak. Consider content: men tend to talk about sports, politics, economics, work, and other topics at a distance from themselves and especially their feelings, whereas clothes, food, family, relationships, and their own feelings tend to occupy center place in female social conversation.
When women are upset, they often speak in hyperbole – “You never,” You always” - in order to get the attention of the person who has disappointed them. Men, not understanding what is going on, take such statements literally, and respond defensively with detailed refutations of specific charges. They commit a similar error when they try to solve a problem which a woman is presenting in rather dramatic terms, rather than simply listening with understanding and empathy.
The main difference seems to be the purpose for which each sex speaks: Women use speech to build a relationship, men to transact business.
Again, of course, we must qualify this broad generalization. Women often say something in order to get something done - “Pick up your clothes! Wash the dishes!” - and men often speak in order to connect with other men; why else would they talk about sports, which have no relevance to their next decision?
Nevertheless, the fact remains that women will often say something, not in order to produce some concrete action, but to build a relationship based upon mutual understanding. Even their criticisms are intended to overcome barriers between themselves and others and to heal what they perceive to be an injured relationship. The appropriate response is to listen carefully, affirm the importance of what was said, at least to the speaker, and then to express appreciation, or perhaps even to share something of a similar nature.
(As I said in a recent lecture on cross-cultural encounters at Tainan University, we can apply this distinction to entire cultures. Lin Yu-tang, author of many books, including My Country, My People, famously asserted that Western culture is “masculine,” while Chinese culture is “feminine.” For example, many observers have noted that Westerners want to conduct business, and then socialize, whereas Chinese would prefer to socialize, and then talk business. Rather than moving immediately to the bottom line, they want to build a relationship first.)
Now for our question: Does God ever speak like a woman?
We know that he talks like a man, to communicate information and to accomplish things. “God said, ‘Let there be light!’ and there was light.” “You shall not commit adultery.” “Do this, and live.” “In six days the LORD created the heavens and the earth.” “Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” Statements like this, plus hundreds of pages of history, fill the Bible, and reveal God’s “masculine” tendency to use words in order to get something done.
On the other hand, can we not discern a “feminine” side in the way the Lord speaks to us?
Take the prophets, for example. Their writings are mostly in poetry, not prose; speaking for God, they employ figures of speech, including hyperbole, to make their point sharper. The stinging rebukes which they administer to God’s people are not meant merely to effect changed behavior, although that is certainly one goal, but to restore a broken relationship. When God expresses how upset he is with Israel, his purpose is to cause them to return to himself.
Likewise, we can see that the historical portions, much of the poetry, and even the “doctrinal” sections of the epistles aim not primarily to get us to do something, but rather to understand God and his ways; to gain a glimpse into his heart; and to delight in him.
It seems to me that we often want to rush on to some part of the Bible that contains a command, or we search for an immediate action step to take upon reading a narrative or poetic passage, rather than simply listening quietly to see what God might just be saying about himself and his relationship with us. Rather than making haste to the spiritual “bottom line,” perhaps we should just wait upon God in silence, savoring each sentence that describes his dealing with Israel, or the words and works of Jesus or the acts of the apostles.
After all, we know that God speaks in order to draw us to himself. He bends all of his communicative omnipotence to cause us to know him, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent (John 17:3), to reveal his glory, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).
Yes, God does sometimes speak like a woman. After all, he created both man and woman in his own image. Each gender reflects aspects of his beauty, truth, and goodness. May we all learn to listen to him, and to each other, with greater appreciation.