A couple of Sunday’s ago I was spending a rather lovely Sunday afternoon. The weather in Sydney was warm and sunny. I needed the rest. The week before had been full on. My study leave had been more than just a mental wrestling match, there were a number of unexpected personal spiritual challenges as well.
About late afternoon my email inbox started pinging. Something about God being father and mother.
The guest speaker that Sunday had prayed to God the Father and Mother.
Some emails were not happy ones, but the majority were questioning.
Is it right? Is it wrong?
Well, where to start?
When God created humanity, he didn’t create man first. There is the assumption that, because Adam is a male name, that he created man first. In fact, he created humanity first. The name Adam comes from the Hebrew word אָדָם which actually means mankind, human being. The fullness of both male and female. The moment God removes the female element of Adam and creates Eve does Adam actually become male. Which is why God can say in Genesis 1:27 (before Eve was even created)…
So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
So in essence, God is the fullness of both male and female. But to restrict God to a gender identity is at best human (we want to Identify God in a way we can relate to Him – notice I refer to God as him), at worst, blasphemous (we relegate Him to a created being). God transcends both creation and gender.
Our view of gender today is far from what the Biblical writers viewed gender. Sure there was a strong patriarchal worldview, but male and female, father and mother, were far more than just gender identities. They were significant social roles with deeper social implications. Some of our cultures today, especially Maori, understand this better than our mainstream westernised culture.
Father meant more than just the male side of a parental relationship. It meant someone who was keeper and protector. Helper and provider. Father was the one who stood in front of the family when danger came. Worked to make sure the family was cared for. Represented the family in times of negotiation and judgment, and personally took the brunt of any judgment on behalf of the family.
In the Old Testament, God is surprisingly rarely referred to as father, only 15 times. At times the father imagery is present although the term “father” is not used, but the same can be said about the mother imagery. The avoidance of the “father” reference for God can also be found in the inter-testamental literature (the Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha and the Dead Sea Scrolls) where it appears only 12 times in all writings.
Jesus and the New Testament is a whole other story.
Jesus refers to God as “father” over 165 times. His favourite form of addressing God was using the Aramaic “abba” a more intimate term for father. The Apostle Paul uses the term “father” to describe God in his letters to the churches over 40 times. Furthermore, Jesus commands us to pray to our “father” (Matt. 6:9).
That said, never was the description of God being father ever meant to be defined by gender. It’s not about God being male or female.
I understand also that some people may find the concept of father as being negative.
Some have told me it’s what holds them back from Christianity.
What holds people back is not the reference of God as father, it’s their hurt and their need for healing. Being sensitive to that is essential, but I’m not sure changing the nature of how God portrays himself helps. We do not refer to Jesus as our sister because of how hurtful or abusive sons/brothers have been in our societal make up. Jesus chose to be seen as the son (though gender definitions do not apply to Jesus either) for the deeper social implications of what it meant to be son. In the same way, God chooses to see himself as father.
I do not believe what our guest speaker did, by addressing God as both father and mother, is blasphemous (as some have suggested to me). It personally doesn’t bother me one way or another. God, in essence, is both and more. That said, we are followers of Jesus. We call ourselves Christians, literally Christ followers. Jesus chose “father” to address God and he taught this as the metaphor by which his disciples should address God.
Jesus knows better…