'The Shack': Does It Matter Whether God Is Male Or Female?

(Facebook/The Shack)Sam Worthington and Octavia Spencer play Mack Phillips and Papa, respectively in 'The Shack.'

The newly released movie "The Shack" has been taking a lot of heat from Christian circles and critics for being a bearer of certain "heresies." Of all criticisms, one that really stands out is the issue of portraying God as female.

"I am neither male nor female," Papa says in the novel of the same name from which the movie was adapted from, "even though both genders are derived from my nature. If I choose to appear to you as a man or woman, it's because I love you. For me to appear to you as a woman and suggest you call me Papa is simply to mix metaphors, to help you keep from falling so easily back into your religious conditioning."

This clearly caused mixed emotions among different members of the body of Christ. Some strongly agreed, others firmly (and sometimes aggressively) disagreed, while another group found it to be of little significance. What is God's gender really? And does it really matter?

God Is '____________'

While it's impossible to understand God with our limited knowledge and understanding, He is clearly described in certain aspects throughout the Bible. One scripture that clearly describes Him is John 4:24, which says, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

God is not a physical sexual being. He is a spiritual being who is not limited by our limitations. John Piper once said, "God has not had a physical body and, therefore, he doesn't have male features: facial hair, musculature, male genitals, no Y chromosome, no male hormones. Male is a biological word, and God is not a biological being."

How God Is Portrayed In Scripture

When it comes to understanding and knowing God, the final authority is and will always be the Bible. God's Word gives us various scriptures that show feminine nurture and care in the nature of God. He is seen to be a mother caring for her newborn (Numbers 11:12). This is to show us that God is the source of not just "manly" protection and provision, but even "feminine" affirmation and fostering.

But even in that, God is portrayed and called "Father" multiple times in scripture. We do not hear Jesus pray, "Our mother who art in heaven." God is always presented as Father, King, Judge, Warrior, Shepherd, and even Husband.

So does it matter if God is portrayed as Father and not mother? If the Bible says so, then yes it does. We may not understand the full reason why, but as scripture also reminds us in Isaiah 55:9, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."