Not Only a Father: 1. Talking Pictures: b. Why Change the Habit of Centuries?

Previous post in this series: Not Only a Father: 1. Talking Pictures: a. Introduction

View from the rock fortress of Massada (Photo by pboyd04)

In order to avoid some extremes of politically correct Christianity, and because they lack understanding of the historic and biblical background for a theologically sound talk of God as mother, many evangelicals speak of God as male. Yet there are pastoral, theological and cultural reasons to broaden our God-talk.

All talk of God is picture language; it cannot be literal. “No one has seen God,” as the Bible puts it.1 God the maker of universes is so far beyond the capacity of human experience and language that only metaphor and analogy can provide ways of talking about “him”. And yet all pictures have some deficiency. Picture language depends on our experiences, comparing with some aspect of life to give it the power to be useful. But sadly, many people have not had good fathering, and some fathers abuse their children. Children may grow up in one-parent families. Father may be a distant and less loving figure than mother, and some children prefer one parent more than the other! Boys may be closer to mother and girls may prefer father.2 A God who is father, not mother, risks being lopsided, and potentially unavailable to people who most need to experience divine love.

Despite the numerical prevalence of women in most congregations, many women feel on the margins of church life. The amount of male imagery for God is not the only reason for this, but it contributes. The Bible teaches (Genesis 1:27) that God created both men and women in the image of God. Yet using almost exclusively masculine pictures of God may encourage women to feel (or fear) they are less “in God’s image”. Men have sometimes believed this too.

We cannot think or speak of God without using pictures. Even speaking of God as “creator” conjures up images of “forming mountains” or of “the hands that flung stars into space.” Yet there is a danger in picturing God, the risk of half a picture. If we speak of the divine as rock and fortress, excluding personal imagery, we risk relating to God impersonally. If we picture God as father, but not as mother, we risk relating to God asymmetrically.

  1. This is quite striking in John 1:18, even though “God the only son” (Jesus) “has made him known”, it is still true that “no one has ever seen God.” (In Greek as in English “see” is used more widely of understanding and experience and not merely of visual sighting). In other words, even when God was revealed in Christ, eyewitnesses still only knew God through a picture. Even though in this case the picture is God himself in human flesh, they still could not “see God”. []
  2. Could this factor contribute to the 3:2 ratio of women to men in church? []