Recently, a friend secretly prayed to God as his Mother. “My church wouldn’t understand,” he lamented.
What do you think? Is it important to view God as Father? Do you appreciate femininity in God? Would you ever pray to God as “heavenly Mother”?
My Ph.D. dissertation was on our image of God. I interviewed hundreds of people, many needed to connect with motherly care from God:
- “My dad abused me. Worse, he joked he was ‘G.O.D.: Good Old Dad.’ He wasn’t good and he certainly wasn’t like God!”
- “I don’t trust men — I can’t relate to God as male.”
- “Praying to God as Mother affirms my femininity.”
- “I need a mother’s love. If I pray to God as ‘Father’ I feel I’m missing the feminine nurture my heart longs for.”
The Bible shows God’s maternal nature. In this sense God is like a loving mother:
- The Spirt of wisdom in Proverbs is feminine.
- We’re invited to “rest in the shadow of El Shaddai”. This Hebrew name for God is often linked to nurture and in Psalm 91 El Shaddai is like a mother bird sheltering us under her soft feathers. (Psalm 91)
- Coming under the wings of our maternal God is repeated throughout the Bible and Jesus himself uses this imagery. (Matthew 23:37)
- God loves us like a mother giving birth, then nursing her little child, and then comforting her older child. (Isaiah 45:10, 49:15, 66:13)
Some people think Scriptures like these justify calling God “She”. It’s a shock to Bible-believing Christians, but sadly there are even some people who celebrate a feminist liturgy that substitutes milk and honey for the body and blood of Christ.
More commonly, there are Christians who avoid referring to God as “He.” To do this they use “God” multiple times in a sentence or use other gender neutral names for God like “Provider”, “Truth”, “Divine Being”, “Mystery”, or “Presence”. It’s true that God is not gendered — “God is Spirit” (John 4:24), not male or female — but it’s not true that God is an impersonal Force as these terms may suggest.
It’s a slippery slope. When we put masculinity or femininity in God we’re projecting. We are made in God’s image and both masculinity and femininity bear that divine stamp and stewarding of creation (Genesis 1:26-27).
Furthermore, we may identify as Christians and yet become “Unitarian” in practice (even if our creed is Trinitarian). We need to be careful not to be so focused on the God of our experience that we miss the centrality of praying to the Father, through Christ Jesus, and in reliance upon the Holy Spirit as the New Testament teaches. Our relationship with God depends on Jesus Christ as high priest and mediator (Hebrews 4:14-16, 8:1-3 and 1 Timothy 2:5).
The movie “The Shack” offers a startling portrayal of the Trinity. To some Christians it’s theologically wrong and to others it’s healing. For most people it’s an imaginative depiction that gets them thinking and praying. “Papa” is a middle-aged African American woman (and later appears as an older white man), Jesus is a Jewish man, and Holy Spirit is a young Asian woman.
The Lord Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven…” (Matthew 6:9-13) Father is a precious name for the Lord God, first declared by the Old Testament prophets (e.g., Jeremiah 3:19). In the Bible God is “like” a mother, but is given the name Father. So traditionally we use “He” for God which refers back to the Fatherhood of God and keeps a personal, relational God in view.
In my experience as a psychologist, when people have a problem with God as Father it’s usually related to projecting their experiences with earthly fathers or other men onto God. For them God becomes male and perhaps sexist, abandoning, distant, condescending, mean, or religious.
This is why Jesus warned us not to call anyone father because we have “one Father” in the heavens (Matthew 23:9, YLT). He’s differentiating God from earthy fathers and he re-directs us: “Anyone who has seen me, has seen the Father” (John 14:9). The key is Christ Jesus! So the New Testament authors teach us to pray to “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (e.g., Romans 15:6;1 Peter 1:3).
Thank you Jesus! You are the perfect revelation of God with skin on! You lead us into “love one another” relationships in which we can minister and receive friendship with you, your Father, and Holy Spirit.
(The theology in this article is drawn from Rev. James B. Torrance’s book Worship, Community, and the Triune God of Grace © 1996 by InterVarsity Press.)
“The Surprising ‘Be-Gratefuls’ of Jesus”
Listen to this week’s podcast as Bill & Kristi discuss and apply Dallas Willard’s teaching on Jesus’ beatitudes.
(Bill’s booklet Jesus’ Greatest Teaching goes into more depth.)
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“Thank you for your transparency — it helps me beyond words. Your tender hearts bring Jesus right into our lives!”
Joani ~ Methodist Minister in South Africa