God Our Mother: Why a Fatherless Generation Needs the Father
I was standing graveside with the fervent heat of an Alabama June weighing me down. I was attending the funeral of my good friend’s mother and what I was about to hear would add even more weight to my heart. Bedecked in vestments which were intended to mark the liturgical season, the pastor who looked more like a grandmother than your typical slick televangelist type, raised her hands and admonished us all to join her in saying the Lord’s Prayer. What this lady pastor had to say was infinitely more damaging than her standing in a position she was unqualified to have.
“When we pray,” she said, “let us call on God our mother.” She then proceeded to lead the gathering in this newly modified edition of the Lord’s Prayer. Now I’ve read the books and have listened to the arguments of those who think calling God “our mother” is not only sound logic but also good counsel. In sum, I remained unconvinced for all the reasons that have been rehearsed in almost every major systematic theology written over the last five hundred years. Others have addressed the issue with great skill so there is no need to rehearse those arguments here (see Randy Stinson, “Our Mother Who Art in Heaven: A Brief Overview and Critique of Evangelical Feminists and the Use of Feminine God-Language,” Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood 8/2 [Fall 2003]: 20–34).
However, I do want to address the so-called pragmatic questions. Is there really a difference if we think of God as mother rather than father? Isn’t this all an issue of semantics? After all, the Bible does say that God is a “Spirit” (John 4:24). The problem with this sort of thinking is that it is only tethered to human logic and we all know how inconsistent that can be. The Bible is not a buffet line of semantically arranged choices in which the reader can pick and choose what he/she likes. If words are to have meaning then we must respond to what the text actually says not what we would wish to insert. So when you pray, use the word “Father” because:
1: The Word “Father” reveals His divine nature.
The Triune God is one, eternally existing in three divine Persons who are equal in essence but different in personal expressions through one undivided and eternal divine nature. What distinguishes the Father from the Son and Holy Spirit is not deity for they are all equally and fully God. The distinguishing mark is the relationships that the Father has in relation to the Son and Holy Spirit.
It is true that the Bible describes God with feminine qualities (Deut 32:18; Isa 42:14; 66:13). However the context of such passages shows that these are metaphors and personifications. The Bible never uses feminine terms, names, or titles to invoke the Father and He is always identified by masculine terms. In other words, “Father” is not just a description of God, it is who He is. Calling Him “Father” is not like adding personification to an inanimate object. He reveals Himself as Father on every page of Scripture because this is who He really is. Therefore, we cannot abandon or replace this divine description with some other word. “Father” is how He truly relates to the Son (Luke 2:4; John 4:34 Eph 1:3; Phil 2:9–11) and how He truly relates to us (Matt 5:45; Rom 8:31–32; Heb 12:7–11; James 1:17).
2: The Word “Father” reveals His divine work.
The Son, Jesus Christ, came in to the world to reveal God and this God is the Father. In one sense the Father is hidden and inaccessible to all mankind because of the barrier of sin yet the Father is revealed to those who come by way of the Son. The incarnation, death, and resurrection all sprang from the eternal relationship that the Father has with the Son (Psa 2:7–9; Isa 53; 1 Cor 15:28; Eph 1:9–12). To have Jesus is to have the Father (Matt 11:27; John 10:15; 1 John 2:13), the One who is the master architect and purposeful designer of our redemption and coming consummation. “You belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor 3:23). For this reason, the Apostle calls us to “give thanks to the Father…” (Col 1:12).
3: The Word “Father” reveals His divine purpose.
Finally, the eternal purpose of God for us is to bring glory to the Father. Again, this is perfectly accomplished in the work of Christ the Son (John 6:38; 8:42; 8:28–29; 1 Cor 15:25–28). Furthermore, the result of the Son’s work means that we, as a kingdom of priests, are to bring glory to the Father (Rev 1:6). One expression of this, Paul says, is our love for one another. As we abound in Christ-like love for the body of Christ the Lord is using this to shape us in holiness for our future meeting before the Father (1 Thess 3:11–13).
A Final Note
The mention of the word “father” is a painful occurrence for many. Ours is a generation that is quickly becoming fatherless with many who are missing-in-action or aloof from their families. This is all the more reason to open God’s Word and be reminded that as our Father, God is one who will never leave us or forsake us. He has sealed His love for us in the blood of His Son. Our Father who is in heaven has sent His Son to dwell among us, given us new life in Him, and seal us with His Spirit.
Paul Lamey is one of our seven TES campus pastors, having served as pastor of preaching and leadership development at Grace Community Church in Huntsville, AL since 2002.