That word “father” is both precious and problematic. It is precious to me because it makes me think of my own father—George Thomas Moody, 1923-2013. He was handsome and smart, kind and careful, full of laughter and thoroughly dedicated to his family, his church, his Bible, and his Kentucky Wildcats. He graduated from UK in 1948 when they won their first national championship and again about 1958 when they won their fourth. All that rubbed off on me, and I am glad.
That word “father” is precious to me.
But that word is also problematic. I want to read this paragraph from a book I bought, read, and reviewed this week. It is a Guide to the Holy Spirit by Grace Ji-Sun Kim. She is a Korean
“My father epitomized the patriarchal “person in charge.” I grew up fearing his anger and wrath. He was a small, thin, feeble-looking man, an inch shorter than my mother. So, seeing my father, one would say he looked harmless, gentle, and kind. In fact, this was the persona he presented to the world. At home, however, he ruled the family with strong patriarchal rule of obedience and subordination. Not only was it necessary that my sister and I obey him, but in addition, my mother, all his sisters, and even his mother were expected to live under his rule. In my father’s frame of mind, God created men to rule over women. Women are to obey their husbands and their brothers and fathers. If they do, then good things will happen, and God will bless them. This was my father’s gospel, and he would often preach it to strangers, family, and neighbors” (111-112).
Jesus must have had a father like my dad, because he took that word and placed it at the forefront of his prayer.
Today, hundreds of millions of people around the world say these words daily. They may be the most widely-known and oft-repeated collection of words in the history of human culture.
Let’s say them together, as a prayer.
The Bible uses many metaphors to talk about God. God is a mystery. God is beyond all creation. Think how vast, majestic, and mysterious this universe is! How you seen the new pictures from space?
God is vast and close at hand. God is mysterious and as certain as the sunrise. The Bible speaks of the Shekinah glory of God. It refers to the place where God dwells, a place near to us, a place we are likely to stumble upon. Shekinah is a way of affirming the presence of God but a presence that is mystery, and inexplicable, and wild, and like the wind of the Spirit, comes as it will and leaves when it will. When I speak like this, I think of the Northern Lights, and of UFOs, and of the overpowering sense of God’s presence I have felt on occasion in my life.
Every word we use to signify God is a metaphor. God is like a father, we mean when we pray this prayer. By which we refer to God as bringing new life into the world; by which we refer to a power that protects us and provides for us and loves us.
That word Father is a metaphor. Some things about being a father are not like God. All fathers are weak in some ways, and ignorant in many ways, and sometimes unable to protect or provide. Some father are absent, or mean, or careless. When some people pray, Our Father, it conjures up very negative memories.
There are other metaphors we use for God. Can you help me name some of these?
God is a birthing spirit. You must be born again, by the spirit, Jesus teaches us. The very presence and power of God comes over us like a mother or a midwife. Or God is like a mother hen, who gathers her chicks to protect them from the destruction and danger that lurks about. God as king is a favorite one of the Hebrew texts. God has a host of warriors that do God biding: protecting, fighting, bringing justice. God is like a judge, bringing to light the good, the bad, and the ugly, declaring some blessed and condemning others as cursed.
Can you think of other metaphors that we use for God?
God is so vast, my wonderful, so mysterious, so present in so many ways that no one metaphor is sufficient. We must
pay attention to the whole counsel of God, all the Bible, every text of Holy Scripture. We must use the old metaphors but also the new ones.
This is why I like our rendition of the Prayer of Jesus. Our Father, creator, we pray. But I would be OK with going further, reaching wider, looking higher and deeper for ways to describe the one and only lord and life. Our father, our mother, our creator, our redeemer, our friend, our ever present help in a time of trouble: hear our prayer and come to our aid.
It is the presence of God that is important, not the title; it is the purpose of God…to do on earth what is done in heaven, to feed the hungry, to reconcile enemies, the resist temptation and fight evil, to praise God, to whom belong the kingdom, the power, and the glory.
That masculine metaphor “Father” is good and its bad. The bad side is this: it invokes ideas and memories that are not always good; and it projects a nature and an identity that can distort the character of God.
This Bible was written by men, for men, about men; and it tells the story of, apparently, a masculine God. This prayer was written by men, about a father God, and has been led and controlled for 2000 years by men.
It is not wonder the Bible is full of masculine language, masculine pronouns, masculine images for God, masculine leaders, masculine rules. The patriarchs were men; the kings were men; the prophets were men; the disciples were men; the apostles were men. No wonder the church has been led by men; no wonder these men have subordinated the women; no wonder a woman has to fight for her place, even now.
Last week, a long term friend of mine published a book: “Finding Your Place in God’s Great Story.” He asked me to review it for him, and I received the book with this card. It reads, in part: “Would you be willing to give it a good review on the platforms you use most often?” I am willing, but then I read the book! The first thing I noticed was the masculine language, masculine images, masculine pronouns. In this book, designed to reduce biblical illiteracy, God is masculine; God is male, God is, I suppose I can say, a man! Three hundred twenty nine times the authors use the pronoun “he” for God … in 166 pages. How can any person be taught anything other than that God is a male?
We live in a time when gender has taken on attention in matters of employment, and law, and politics. For the first time ever, we have a woman as vice president, we have four women on the Supreme Court, and we have women playing basketball at a level few of us could have imagined two decades ago! Gender counts in admissions, in promotions, in opportunity, in responsibility.
One day, the pope will be a woman! And a century or two later, the president the Southern Baptist Convention will be a women!
More than that, pronouns make a difference! Do I need to expound upon that?
It makes a difference what language we use when we talk about God! It makes a difference what images we use, especially in this most important of all prayers.
My assertion in this teaching/preaching series is this: these 62 words are the most widely known, often repeated words in the history of human culture! We can have a discussion about that some day soon. But here is my outline for this series: this simple prayer is an outline of how to prayer, yes, but also of how to think about things, especially God things, Jesus things. This prayer teaches us about the reality of God, the purposes of God in the world, the care of God for the needs of creatures, the reconciliation that is needed between us and God and between you and me, and finally it teaches us about temptation and evil and the ultimate victory of God. That is a pretty good outline of our deepest convictions.
This prayer also calls us to live a certain way: to honor God, to surrender to God’s will, to trust God for what we need, to give and receive forgiveness, to run from temptation and resist all evil, and finally to give glory to God.
That is the way I want to live, don’t you?
When I pray this prayer, Our father, our mother, our creator, our redeemer, our help in a time of trouble—when I pray this prayer it calls me to a way of living, a way of being, a way of serving, a way of embracing life.
I don’t want my grandchildren struggling with a male God, a God that is seen primarily as strong instead of tender, as a warrior rather than a peacemaker, as a man like the images that dominate some segments of Christian culture: Jesus, muscular and armed, ready for a fight and itching for a rumble.
This is why we teach our grandchildren the son, Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Jesus himself said, “Let all the children come to me. Don’t prevent them. They are the kingdom of God.”
In just a moment we will sing the old gospel song, “What a friend we have in Jesus.” It is this Jesus that teaches us about God. God is like a father that protects and provides. God is like a mother that gathers us into her care. God is like the wind that comes and goes. God is like the light that shines in our hearts and opens up a way. God is like a friend we can trust when times are tough. God is like the potter that shapes our lives for good and fills us with grace.
This is the God of time and eternity. This is the God we worship: father, mother, creator, redeemer, friend of sinners, and a present help in all our troubles.