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The Scandal of God the Father

By November 21, 2008No Comments

In these next two posts I am going to examine two attributes of God–His identity as Father and His wrath–that feminist theology has frequently considered to be in opposition with the good of women. I will attempt to explain why both premises are inherently false, as well as detrimental.

The next time you go to church and hear a sermon, listen carefully to the language that your pastor uses, particularly in reference to God. If you go to an evangelical church, it is likely you will hear the pastor refer to God as “Him” or “He.” If, on the other hand, you attend a non-evangelical church, you are more likely to hear God referred to simply as “God.”

If you find yourself listening to a preacher that qualifies under the second category, notice the hoops he will jump through to avoid using the male pronoun in reference to God. His sentences will sound semantically awkward and bulky as he makes statements like, “Then God reconciled God’s world to God’s self so that all could be in relationship to God.”

It gets a little redundant.

The reason you need to hone in on this language is that, in refusing to use male pronouns, the preacher is making a theological statement.

Today, many Christians are wary of describing God in gender specific terms, and for several reasons. The first is that it can limit our conception of God to being exclusively male. I can somewhat sympathize with this perspective. God is not male in the way we think of maleness. God encompasses both male and female attributes, so men are not somehow made to be MORE in God’s likeness than women. They simply reflect God’s character in different ways than women. This is a good point to remember.

(Though the balanced response is not to throw out God’s maleness altogether. That would be a case of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Scripture refers to God as being male for good reasons–we’ll get to that in a second…)

However, there is another strand of theology that rejects God’s maleness, particularly His identity as Father, and it comes specifically out of feminist theology. From this perspective, the idea of “father” has a negative connotation with many individuals, and should therefore be avoided. Many women have been abused or mistreated by their fathers, so they see the category of “father” as profoundly dangerous and frightening. And if such is the case, conceiving of God as Father will actually serve to alienate women from God if they have bad relationships with their own fathers.

In response to this problem, some feminist theologians have opted to avoid construing of God as Father. Not all of these theologians go quite as far as to completely ignore God’s role as Father, but they will still avoid referring to God in male terms. Regardless of their approach, God’s position as Father is labeled as patriarchal. It is a scandal.

This position is profoundly errant. We must always be suspicious of any theology that responds to an abuse of a doctrine by dismissing the doctrine altogether. That is not a proper or healthy response. In doing so, we miss out on the goodness that God wrote into His creation.

For example, by conceiving of God as Father, we are actually provided with the hope of correcting the mistakes of our earthly fathers. Maybe you had a horrible dad who neglected you or showed you conditional love, and as a result of that experience you are left wounded and feeling incomplete.

But the best response to this experience is not to ignore God’s role as Father. The best response is to embrace it. Maybe your earthly father didn’t love you, but you have a Heavenly Father who does! If there is a void left in your heart that you long for your earthly father to fill, you have a Heavenly Father who is waiting with arms spread wide to fill it.

Rather than dismiss the category of father, which will later serve to hinder any chance at a healthy family life, an understanding of God as Father seeks to restore our paternal conceptions. It gives us a picture of what healthy fatherhood looks like, which is particularly important as women seek healthy marriages with husbands who will care for their families.

It is for this reason that a conception of God as Father is not antithetical to the good of women. On the contrary, it is in our best interest. It gives us a standard against which we can hold the men in our lives. If you are dating a man who does not model the love and sacrifice of God, then he is not a man with whom you should yoke yourself. God as Father is therefore our best protection, a source of safety and healing in a broken world. That is why God as a male and God as a Father are doctrines we must never cast off.

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