I have issues with the “Father God” image. Actually, I have issues with male language for God altogether, but this one especially pushes my buttons.
Language is an important tool when conveying ideas and images about the Divine. We each hear and process language based mainly on our own experiences. We hear the language of “Father” through our experiences of being “fathered.” My friend Jenny had a horribly oppressive father when she was growing up and gave up on the Catholic Church completely because she couldn’t reconcile “God the Father” with the father she had. I did not grow up with a terribly oppressive, mean father; however, my dad wasn’t particularly reliable when I was in my late teens and twenties. But even more than that, I filter the word through my experience as a woman. I am tire of hearing about the “faith of our Fathers”, the Fathers of our country, the founding Fathers of the religion (or whatever)… what about the mothers? With all of male language for Jesus (which is understandable since he was male), and the almost exclusively male imagery for God… I have felt marginalized and left out.
(For the full audio version, click here.)
I admit, it has become a stumbling block for me. I have not even had the patience to deal with it in a sermon until this last week.
In the Old Testament we primarily encounter a punishing, angry, vengeful, jealous, God who loves his people conditionally, based on whether they are following the rules or not. And he does this from on high, in the clouds or on a mountaintop somewhere. The God of the Old Testament was powerful, was to be held in awe, was to be worshiped and obeyed.
Then Jesus comes along and suddenly starts addressing God as “Abba” which in Aramaic (the language he spoke and taught in) is close to “daddy” or “papa.” Well, the religious authorities already didn’t like him much, but this was close to blasphemy! Who has the gall to refer to Father God in such a familiar, intimate, equal way? The God that Jesus shared with people was caring, loving, compassionate, forgiving, inclusive, and generous. Abba God dwelt with and within people, was a friend and a companion.
Jesus’ use of the Father metaphor for God also made sense historically and contextually. In a patriarchal culture, the father was the core of the family. And, in fact, without a father (or husband) women and children were at great risk. Jesus invited people into the household of God, where they were children of an Abba God who loved and cared about them and was present for them always.
To me, this clearly seems like an evolution of the understanding not only of God, but of fatherhood. It has taken us almost 2,000 years for fathers to begin to resemble Abba God, where dads are more involved in their children’s lives, they are allowed to show emotion, they are equal partners with their wives.
Somehow, instead of seeing this as an evolution of thought, the church has simply merged these two understandings of God together. It makes my head hurt trying to reconcile the images. If we are going to use the metaphor of a Father for God, then it is time we jumped on Jesus’ bandwagon and embrace Abba God, and let the Old Testament Father go.