A good Trinity Sunday to you, and happy Father’s Day from Episcopal Café.
In the Huffington Post, Brian D. “Generous Orthodoxy” McLaren says referring to God as Father, or using “father” language at any rate, is of course shaped by one’s relationship with one’s own father.
Like most Christians, I address God as “our Father in heaven” as Jesus taught in the Lord’s prayer. I’m sure my positive experiences with my dad (86 now and still going strong) make that language and imagery positive and meaningful for me. I don’t think of God as the stern parent, dominating and rigid, commanding obedience, threatening punishment, managing rage. I think of God as the one who places me in a bountiful, joyous world of lakes and ponds and crashing seas, one who swims and surfs with me, one who introduces me to a world of wonders.
I’ve met many people for whom father-imagery evokes little beyond the dread and oppression of patriarchy — either in their personal experience or our common history. In light of the ongoing impact of patriarchy, I understand why father-imagery is problematic for so many people. That’s why (as I describe in the early chapters of my book Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in Twelve Simple Words) I’m all for balancing and integrating paternal images with other images for God — such as God as loving mother (see Isaiah 49:15 and 66:13), God as shepherd (Psalm 23), God as friend (James 2:23), God as gardener (John 15), and so on.
As someone who has grappled for years with how we imagine, name, and relate to God, and as someone who takes the Scriptures seriously even when I’m willing to acknowledge the problems I find there, I have a hunch about the New Testament’s emphasis on paternal imagery for God. Just as we are careful to use maternal imagery to balance and soften the potentially negative dimensions of dominant paternal imagery, paternal imagery was used to balance and soften the potentially negative dimensions of dominant kingly imagery in the time of Jesus.
The family-of-origin stuff is practically self-evident: If you have/had a lousy dad, you might not be inclined to go to that card as easily as others when using language to ascribe characteristics to the divine. Or you may have/had a perfectly fine dad, but have chosen to move on in your expression of such conceptions.
But I’m curious: what do you make of the “balancing and softening” approach?