I find myself gravely concerned about the suggestion currently being put forward in certain quarters that we should avoid referring to God by masculine pronouns, as these suggest that God is male. The rise of radical feminism has encouraged a rejection of patriarchal images and concepts of God which they contend diminish, rather than empower women. Such an attitude, however, disregards the teaching of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who instructed us to pray to God as “Our father”. To regard the Fatherhood of God solely as patriarchal imagery is a gross distortion of what our Lord reveals about God the Father, whose love and compassion for humankind is boundless.
It is a profound tragedy that some people do not accept God as He has revealed Himself to us but rather wish to recreate Him according to their own imagination and sympathies. As in all such cases they do not worship the God who created them in His image, but rather choose to create God in their image. Stereotypical images of masculinity and femininity must not be allowed to colour our understanding of the Divine. By nature God manifests all that is good and to view our relationship with Him through our perception of gender roles in society is unacceptable. Father figures may not always be loving and supportive of their children, but the fact that human frailty leads to imperfection which sometimes causes pain and suffering does not mean that fatherhood in itself is flawed. Equally those positive characteristics of love, compassion, gentleness and tenderness which we associate with maternal nature are not solely the preserve of females.
The Aramaic term ‘Abba’, translated as Father, is used by our Lord Jesus Christ, and has a closeness and intimacy, which is actually far from patriarchal. St. Paul tells us “because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba Father’ so through God you are no longer a slave but the son, and if a son then an heir.” (Galatians IV: 6-7). Although he here uses masculine imagery what he says is not intended only for men but embraces all Christians. Our Lord Jesus Christ is God’s son by nature, but through the generosity and mercy of God we too are enabled to become sons of God by adoption, whilst the imagery of God’s boundless generosity is captured by suggesting that we are to be beneficiaries of His inheritance. The same image of God’s bounty and freeing us from the bondage of sin and death is also conveyed by St. Paul when he says “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father’ (Romans VIII: 5).
The Scriptures are full of rich imagery and we must not overlook the fact that John the Baptist’s alludes to Christ as the bridegroom (John III: 29), which St. Paul interprets as His loving fellowship with His church, which in the book of Revelation is referred to as the Bride and New Jerusalem.
Attempts to counteract what they see as male dominance has led some to adopt feminine language and refer to God as ‘mother’. Sylvia Browne, an American psychic medium and author of “Mother God. The Feminine Principle to our Creator” (2004) draws inspiration from the female divinities of the ancient world. There is, however, a grave danger here of reverting to pagan and neo-Gnostic teachings which undermine orthodox Christian teaching.
It should be sufficient for us to follow in obedience our Saviour’s teaching as to how we should pray. God is our Father, emphasizing a uniquely intimate relationship; whilst we are His obedient and loving children. Again, the imagery of God’s fatherhood reveals to us a bond of fellowship with humanity, our brothers and sisters in creation.