What’s the deal with all that “father” language in the Bible anyway?
The gender-explicit language of Scripture has long been a stumbling block to theological liberals. Under the influence of feminism, many have sought to relegate all the masculinity of the God of the Bible to the cultural prejudices of the times in which it was written. Accordingly, they feel comfortable purging Scripture of patriarchy by either neutering the language or adding feminine language into it alongside the masculine. Why restrict ourselves to praying “Our Father who art in Heaven” when we could pray “Our Mother who is within is” or “Father and Mother of us all in whom is heaven”? Why put God in a masculine box?
Of course, some of these people might claim that I’m misrepresenting the situation because the Bible already uses feminine language for God, and this was simply repressed/ignored by the evil patriarchs running the Church in the past. “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you” says the Lord in Isaiah 66:13. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” says Jesus in Matthew 23:37. See? God is just as much a mother as a father, and Jesus might just as well be a daughter as a son!
But such claims betray the underlying beliefs of those who want to neuter the Bible. The key word in such passages is “as.” “As one whom his mother comforts.” “As a hen gathers her brood.” That word makes these verses similes. A simile is an explicit kind of metaphor in which one thing is straightforwardly compared to something else in order to illuminate a shared quality. If one takes these metaphors as a license to call God “mother” just as he instructed us to call him “father,” then one is treating both “mother” and “father” as metaphors.
For rather than seeing the Bible as God’s Word, theological liberalism sees it as a record of individuals and communities encountering God and trying to make some kind of sense of their experiences. Being the patriarchal people they were, they noted that God behaved like the human fathers that they were more familiar with (and were mostly oblivious to the ways in which God acted like a mother). And behold: “God the Father” was born of man! So when Jesus calls God “Father” and instructs us to do the same, theological liberals think Jesus was merely condescending to use the popular metaphor of the time in which he lived. The resultant idea is that people may experience God as father (or as Jesus, or as the Holy Spirit, for that matter), but God is not really a father, let alone the Father.
But if the Father is simply a way in which we experience God, or one of the ways in which God has revealed himself, then the Father is not God at all and is instead simply a ‘way’ that exists primarily in our own thoughts and experiences. This is nothing else than the ancient heresy of modalism—the belief that The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not God, but are simply “modes” in which God interacts with the world. Unlike its ancient counterpart, modern modalism might not care whether God is three persons or only one, but it shares the same root problem: confusing God Himself with something in our minds and hearts that stands between us and the “real” God. This is the danger of thinking that the “father” language of scripture is some kind of optional metaphor. Metaphors stand between us and what they represent—if we worship them, they therefore become idols. If you pray to a mother, and/or a neuter, and/or a being who is both male and female, then you are not praying to the one true God at all.
“But the Bible says God is a Spirit! The first person of the Trinity doesn’t have a body like us, so he’s not really male or female at all!” Too many people labor under this Gnostic assumption—that everyone is really a neuter spirit inhabiting a male and/or female meat-sack—and extend their false assumption even to God. But the relationship of God and “father” is just the opposite of what theological liberals presume. Humans didn’t encounter a neuter and/or female God and clumsily grab the closest somewhat apt metaphor at hand. Instead, God created fathers, body & spirit together, specifically to be a representation of Himself. Theological liberals think that “God the Father” is a pale shadow of the real God because the real God is less of a father than the fathers we see on a regular basis. The reality is that He is more of a father. He is The Father. Human fathers are the pale shadow of the real Father God, just as patriarchal orthodox Christians have always known Him.
Some mainline denominations have opted to expand their language of the Trinity to additional poetic phrases such as “Mother, Child, and Womb.” While there’s nothing wrong with describing God poetically, they feel free to add their poetry alongside God’s self-revelation of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” because they think that “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” are merely poetry in the first place. But the ecumenical creeds of the Church catholic do not express a belief in poetry or metaphors. Theological liberals might as well refer to their god as “Molech, Astaroth, and Baal,” because they do not worship the same God proclaimed by orthodox Christianity.