God the Father Reconsidered
By Rev John T. Schwiebert, ThM
Since the theme of this newsletter issue is Fathers and Father’s Day, and since Theology is what I bring to these online conversations about grief, let me speak of God, the Father.
In the earlier days of my pastoral ministry Mary Daly, a Catholic sister, wrote a book entitled, “Beyond God the Father.” Her book, along with other strong feminist writings, helped us to see the misunderstandings that we foster when the metaphor we use to refer to God is only, or even primarily, that of a male parent. The Bible, after all, also speaks of God as a mother who conceives and bears children (Number 11:12, Deut. 32:18) and who protects her children by comforting them (Isaiah 66:13) and sheltering them from harm (Luke 13:34)
One problem, we realized, was that some who only identified God as Father had earthly fathers who were distant and emotionally unavailable on the one hand, or punitive, abusive, uncaring and overbearing on the other.
In response to this problem presented by Mary Daly and others, some of us went through a period where, when we read the Bible aloud, we skipped the father metaphor all together when whenever God was referred to as Father.. To get beyond God as Father, we simply substituted the word God. Thus, for example: “Our Father who art in heaven,” became “our God who art in heaven.”
But we lost something too, when we avoided speaking of God as Father. In fact one could argue that Jesus used the word Father (in Aramaic, Abba) when speaking of God in preference to other less friendly words like King, Ruler, and Judge.
Abba as a word for God implies intimacy. A God who is abba is a God who loves and nurtures, who gently guides and protects. Not a stern Father whom you have reason to fear, but a Papa who is ready and eager to gather you into his arms.
This Papa God is the God we need most to know as we go through the difficulties of grief after a deep personal loss. And it is to this Papa God that Jesus himself prayed in his own hour of grief (Matthew 26:38-39)
This is the God described by Brian Wren in his beautiful hymn entitled, “Bring Many Names”:
Warm father God,
hugging every child,
feeling all the strains
of human living,
caring and forgiving,
till we’re reconciled...
A good God to remember, after all, on Father’s day!