God Depicted as Father

(Lindsay Brandt) #1

Hello, everyone. So I came across a video today that tried to explain why God is depicted as Father in the Bible as opposed to mother. I have my own thoughts, but since I know that I definitely don’t know everything :), I want to hear your thoughts. Just so everyone knows, I am not in favor at all of referring to God as mother…I’ve just thought on and through this before, and the video brought it up for me again today.

The video I saw was saying that most of the violence and crime in the world comes from men, and so men need a good example to follow. The video was saying that children who grow up fatherless more or less go wild and basically have no moral compass. They said women need good role models, too, but not to keep them from crime and violence. They said that half the women in prison grew up fatherless and that even women are more likely to listen to and follow a male authority. They added to this by saying that if people don’t have a rule-giver, they go wild. They said that if God was presented as feminine or a mother, then men would see traits like compassion and love and kindness, etc. as female traits and would then not follow God’s example.

Thoughts about these things?

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(Bill Brander) #2

Good day Lindsay, while at seminary I recall some of my feminist colleagues saying the Lord’s prayer “Our Mother…” and “Our Mother and Father…”
It irked me and a number of other men in the class. Caused a few heated discussions too.
The end result in my case, was that I enrolled on an elective on Feminist theology - so I could try and understand where these ladies were coming from.
Although I agree with some of their arguments, I still draw the line at praying to “Mother”. I believe that God is not a gender but rather Spirit.
Thanks
Bill

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(Lindsay Brandt) #3

Hi, Bill. Thank you so much for responding, and I definitely agree with you on all counts. I think there might have been a bit of a misunderstanding, so let me see if I can clarify. In my post, I stated that I do not believe in praying to Mother, nor am I a feminist. While I appreciate that sometimes we need to categorize things to help us organize systems of thought, it might be helpful to move away from labels such as feminism/feminists, as they can cause misunderstandings and misguided views of the person with which we are conversing. I agree that God transcends gender. My question was not what gender God is but, rather, the reason He is depicted as Father and “He” in the Bible. Then I wrote in my post someone else’s perspective about the question and asked for thoughts on that. If you could please reread my post in light of my clarification and give me your thoughts on what I wrote and asked, especially since you seem to have had some thought on this already, it would be greatly appreciated! Grace, Lindsay

(christopher van zyl) #4

Was it by any chance a PragerU video?

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(Lindsay Brandt) #5

Yes, but this isn’t the first time I’d heard this reasoning behind God depicted as Father, and I know I’ve spoken with plenty of people that either are just curious or are really bothered by it. I’m not personally bothered by it at all, but the video made me wonder about what others here might think about it—not the video but the reasons for God being depicted as a male. My own perspective is that it has to do with culture, but I don’t want to expound too much on that until I hear others’ thoughts. I thought it would be a good question to mull over considering it’s kind of a hot-button issue with some out there.

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(Sieglinde) #6

My first guess would have been culture. I don’t know that men would have responded with the fear and respect that they did if God had appeared more feminine but that is just speculation. Men need good male role models and God is their ultimate role model. Women need good female role models and God is also their ultimate role model since we see scripture that attest to the “feminine” aspect of God.

Hosea 13:8 “like a bear robbed of her cubs.”
Isaiah 66:13 “as a mother comforts her child.”
Matthew 23:37 “ as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.”

But I do believe, although these feminine or motherly characteristics existed in the Triune God, that He still maintained masculinity.
As a woman, I have never felt the Bible deemed me “lesser than” rather, I feel women are “highly valued" because of their complimentary design. I believe both sexes can demonstrate each other’s characteristics without assuming each other’s roles.

When I think of God as Father the words to describe Him are Mighty, King, Protector, Provider, Leader, Powerful etc. That was very comforting to me growing up in a dysfunctional household where the father figure was absent. But it was still very damaging for me and my siblings not to have our father around. And I believe we are seeing more and more just how much the Father who demonstrates the character of our Lord is needed.

These are just my thoughts…

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(Sieglinde) #7

I need to note that I do realize that God is Spirit and not a particular gender:)

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(Bill Brander) #8

I go along with Sig on this, ‘paternalistic’.

I experience cultural stereotypes of God as Father often in my context. Their usual standpoint is that Jesus prays, “Our Father…” So God is a man. I don’t think I’ll ever change their mind, so I don’t try.
Bill

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(Lindsay Brandt) #9

@billbrander, You bring up a good point about not changing their minds. When I go into conversation with someone, most of the time (unless they are really letting me know that they really want their view challenged to see what they need to learn, and I’ve had someone ask me to debate with them for that reason), I don’t go in with a goal to change their minds. For me, that treats people more like a target than a person, and it usually is going to cause a wall to go up, so it’s a good idea to not go in seeking to change someone’s mind, I think. Even though we can take classes on systems of belief to learn the other “side’s” point of view, I think it’s important to ask the individual who has issues with something like this (God as Father, masculine, etc) about why he or she feels that way and then to listen well.

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(Lindsay Brandt) #10

@billbrander, can you think of a good approach to discussion with someone who wants to talk with you about his/her point of view on this matter but seems to only be seeking those things which affirm his/her beliefs? Can you think of any reason why that person is only seeking that which affirms his/her beliefs, especially when it has to do with an issue with something like God presenting Himself as masculine in the Bible?

(Bill Brander) #11

Lindsay, as I said in my experience >90% of the isiXhosa believe that God is masculine.

The isiXhosa culture has been and to a large extent still is paternalistic. For example, it is culturally acceptable for a man to beat his wife/wives if he wants to. It is also OK for a husband to have girlfriends. The sad thing to me is that some women believe this too.

May I add that I have had a few older white ladies in my office informing me that their father abuse them as children, emotionally and sexually. They therefore have great reluctance to view God as a ‘father’. It hurts them too much.

But let’s assume that a man/woman asked me about God being portrayed as being masculine in Scripture. My initial response would be to ask them why they ask me that question?
Maybe they are wondering if the feminist theologians have a valid point? Maybe, as you say they want to affirm their ‘inherited’ belief. Maybe they have been abused by fathers. But why are they asking me about this? “What do you want me to find out about God?” Would be another question.

So my two starter questions would be “Why” and “What?”
Stay blessed
Bill

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(DANIEL BLOCK) #12

Good Day or Evening!
I believe there is a bit of a chicken and egg thing going on here with respect to God assigning Himself male gender pronouns. God created us in His image, male and female. Then He shared Himself with us, eventually through the written word. Part of that written word is establishing healthy relationships, played out “live” in Genesis 2 and expounded upon throughout the rest of Scriptures. As I see it, the roles of Authority & Submission that have been assigned to Man & Woman, respectively, are maybe better understood as Responsible & Essential. In Gen. 2 Adam was given the responsibility to take care of the earth, something that was impossible for him to do on his own (God said it was “not good”). Therefore God created Eve, a new person and gender who was essential (a helper fit for him) to God’s plan.

What does this have to do with God’s use of pronouns for Himself? Given that He has already revealed to us the relational roles discussed above, it only makes sense that in His dealings with us He reserves the role of “responsibility/authority” for Himself. We the Church are therefore called His “bride” and while we are in submission to Him, He has given us an “essential” role to play in the care (spiritual and physical) of the earth.

So I see the “male” pronouns as less gender-important and more role-important. I recognize the hurt and unbelievable sin that has been propagated by poor teaching on gender roles, so I can accept that this idea may still sound offensive. Hopefully “Responsible” and “Essential” can take the sting out of that which were meant to be beautiful words; “Authority” and “Submission”.

My two cents as one member of the Body of Christ (probably the elbow)…

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(Lindsay Brandt) #13

@billbrander, thanks for the response and sharing some of your experience with these things, and I so appreciate your obvious compassion for the women who find themselves in the situations you mentioned at the beginning of your post.

I think those questions you put forth are great. Sometimes, too, if I keep conversing with someone and they keep pushing back with an argument and don’t seem to be truly considering what is being said, I sense sort of a desperate need for God as mother to be affirmed. I think in that case, I might ask the person to tell me how they see God and perhaps even how they see themselves. I think exploring that person’s worldview, too, might help, because even within a Christian worldview, there are different variations of worldviews. How the person views the world and God’s involvement in not only THE world but THEIR world can tell a person a lot about maybe what that person needs. Asking questions, in that case, and allowing the person to talk about all of this, sometimes helps get them thinking through why they think the way they do. I hope I am making sense. I’m kind of just thinking this through as I go along :).

Thanks again, @billbrander!

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(Lindsay Brandt) #14

Yes, I realized I should have noted that, too, in my original post, ha

(Lindsay Brandt) #15

I love what you said right here, because I think some of the demand for God to be seen as female or mother stems from feeling “lesser than” because God portrayed Himself as masculine. To think about it, He had to pick one or the other anyways, because He is relational and so to refer to Himself as “it” would have been misleading about who He is. Culturally over time, people have seen and looked up to men as leaders, protectors, providers, etc–all the things that God is. In my line of thinking, for Him to take on the more submissive role of the woman would have been to portray Himself inaccurately as well, like @sondaeeranch touched on in his post.

I also understand what you mean by the masculinity of God being comforting because of growing up without a father around. My dad was around but not really there as far as we kids were concerned, and there were other dysfunctional things going on that really made me look up to and appreciate my Father in heaven. I am joyful that we are saved, but I am even more overjoyed that I have a Father that loves and cherishes me and is always there, a Father that I can have an actual relationship with! For me, that’s the best gift anyone could have given me. Thank you for sharing a piece of your story.

@sondaeeranch, thanks so much for your insightful input! I think you’re maybe right about trying to come up with different words for “authority” and “submission”, because the words authority and submission seem to mean something very different in our day than was meant in the Bible, especially within the context of husband and wife. Today, people tend to see authority as lordship or something that means they are to “lord it over” people, and submission tends to mean “you jump and I say how high.” Not at all what God intended. However, in Genesis one, the responsibility to rule over the earth or have dominion over it and subdue it is given to both the man and the woman, not just the man (Genesis 2:26-28). In Genesis 2, the man is told to tend and keep the Garden of Eden. That is important to note.

I agree with you, though, that the issue, in large part, has stemmed from the poor teaching on all of this.

Thanks, @sondaeeranch!

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(Lindsay Brandt) #16

One other thought I had on this as I was getting ready for the day this morning: As I read about California pushing for teachers to talk about gender identity with kindergartners, I wonder why people are fighting so hard to give everyone the right to choose which gender by which they wish to be known, and yet when God designates Himself a gender (though He is neither gender), there is incredible resistance and even anger about it. But then as I am thinking through this, I guess at least some of those pushing back against that might suppose that God Himself did not designate it. If they don’t take the Bible as the Word of God, they may suppose that people are the ones who designated God as a male.

(DANIEL BLOCK) #17

Good point @psalm151ls; we all share in the responsibility to take care of what God has given us. :+1:

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(Larenn) #18

This is such an interesting conversation. Im really happy i’ve read it. Something that came to mind while reading this is a blurb from the book i’m currently reading. The book is called Misreading Scripture With Western Eyes, it is a theological punch in the face and i recommend every single westerner read it. In one of the chapters it speaks about how in our western culture ( and every culture) we have certain things that go without saying. For example the term “first” carries a really heavy connotation for us westerners. If first is achievable we want it, and we dont want to be second or third etc because in our view “first=best” and everything after first is therefore less than. I think this view of “first” bleeds into how we read scripture. Paul writes that women are not to exercise authority over a man because men are the “first” in creation. I think across our history we’ve used verses like these to somehow make women feel lesser, if that makes sense. That being said, I dont think that Paul meant that women are any lesser than men, he says men are to be first among equals. However, I still think the church as a whole doesnt do a good job of treating women as equals and i think that maybe thats why many women want to pray to God as mother. Ive never prayed to God as mother before, but i know that when i was younger, it did kind of bother me that God’s masculine traits always seemed to be preached as more important than His feminine ones. God, having no gender, is perfectly masculine and feminine. As far as talking to someone who’s only interested in hearing things that confirm what they already think (classic confirmation bias) our church did this really great evangelism class called contagious. In the class they taught us to ask questions rather than try to give an immediate answer, these questions have been really useful and led to better deeper discussions about other’s opinions. Some of the question include: Thats really interesting, how do you know thats true? If you were to read/hear the opposite opinion from the same source would you still believe it? If it were proven to you right now that you were wrong how would that affect how you view this topic and Jesus? Can we look into/research this more together? People hold their convictions close like a tight fist, we can pry it open with facts and debates but as soon as the pressure is gone the fist will close again, so i think that asking questions can be a really effective way to have great dialogue.

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(Carson Weitnauer) #19

Hi friends,

I am glad we are having this candid discussion and exploration. I thought this was a timely and relevant approach to the question from @Jo_Vitale:

And yet, while Christ has gifted us with the immense privilege of calling God “our father,” we miss out on something distinctly beautiful about the heart of God if we overlook the intentional way that God is also likened to a mother throughout Scripture. From the anguish of childbirth (Deuteronomy 32:18; Isaiah 42:14), to the intimacy of breastfeeding (Isaiah 42:14; 49:15), to the motherly embrace of a hurting child (Isaiah 66:13), to the daily habits of child rearing (Hosea 11:3-4), to the fierce maternal instinct to guard a child (Hosea 13:8; Deuteronomy 32:11-12; Matthew 23:37), God does not shy away from identifying Himself with the most intense emotions and meaningful experiences of motherhood. Indeed, even the repeated description of God as “compassionate” evokes a sense of maternal care, as the underlying noun at the root of the Hebrew word for “compassion” is “womb.”

As I embark on this steep learning curve of discovering what it means to be a parent, it is an immense comfort to me to know that I am leaning on a God who can relate to both the heady joys and the intense sorrows of loving like a mother. When my heart is so overflowing with love that I feel like I could flood the world with it, I know I don’t need to try and find words to explain that to God; his love for his children runs so deep that we are engraved on his palms and ever on his mind (Isaiah 49:16). And when my heart trembles at the prospect of what my son might face in the days and years ahead, it settles me to know that Jesus, too, longs to gather up his people in the fiercely protective embrace of a mother hen (Matthew 23:37).

I hope these comments from Jo might encourage and build up each of us as we reflect on God’s extravagant love!

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(Mark Gilliam) #21

Thanks for sharing your concerns and thoughts.

I am not sure there is a clear biblical answer to the why question.

However, there is a clear answer to what God is.

Question 4 of the Shorter Catechism’s question asks “What is God?” The answer is “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” Here we see what God is with no reference to a human gender. The children’s catechism answer to what is God in question 9 says “God is a Spirit and has not a body like men.” Therefore, I think we ought to be cautious when thinking of God the Father or God the Spirit as male in any human sense.

What is more important is concerning God is that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit share the same divine nature. They are in a sense one in that they share the same divine nature and in a sense three in their personhood. They are not three males in a human sense.

More critical perhaps to the discussion is Question 10 of the Shorter catechism. “How did God create man?” The answer is “God created man male and female, after his own image, in knowledge, righteousness, and holiness, with dominion over the creatures.” This is wonderful for us in that both men and women reflect God’s image and are endowed with the same gifts. Therefore, while God reveals Himself as Father, both men and women equally reflect His image. There is no hint of an inferiority of a female in reflecting God’s image. In fact God found it necessary to create both men and women to reflect His image. While we as humans may associate power and authority with men and compassion and kindness with women, God, even though He is Father, has both, and is in no way limited by human genders.
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