What Does It Mean To Call God Father (or Mother)?

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This month Beams is exploring parenting. In the Christian tradition the primary image for God is a father and occasionally as a mother. (Actually the term Jesus used of God was 'Abba', translated as Father but is a more affectionate term of endearment and intimacy than Father usually carries in English.)

It got me thinking about what it means to use the metaphor of parenting to describe The Divine. The first thing to say I think is that it is a metaphor--it's symbolic and not literal. Second the parenting metaphor is only one of the many metaphors used of God in the Jewish-Christian tradition. There are many other metaphors. For example, Islam has 99 names for God (none of which are Father or Mother).

A metaphor in relation to the Divine works in two ways--it predicates of God qualities we see expressed in daily life. This brings a real closeness or intimacy to God (the fancy theological term is immanence). When we see a mom holding her infant child close to her chest our hearts are warmed. When we see young siblings running quickly towards their approaching father, screaming "Daddy!", wrapping their arms around his legs, we know he loves them and cares for them. We know the children feel totally safe with him.

What this suggests then is a practice of spiritual devotion. And we can become like those children, laying in the lap of God, who is seen as beloved mother, father, grandfather or grandmother (metaphors more common in the indigenous American spiritual traditions).

As Jesus would say, "Unless you become like a child, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven."

To take up that child-like stance in relation God is to embody a posture of deep repose--just like the child's pose in yoga. It's also a position of deep trust and intimacy. The metaphor of God as parent allows the pray-er to become (in the best sense) childlike, full of wonder, awe, and trust.

The flip side of God as a parent is that when we act as parents we become like God. I mean parents here in the broadest sense, including of course actual parents (but also godparents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc.). In this way parenting truly is (or can be) a spiritual practice, a holy act, a sacrificial offering of love. It is something that makes us feel closer to God who--in a metaphoric sense--knows what it is to be a parent. The Creator who loves Creation like parents who love their children.


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1 comment

  • Comment Link Michael Milano Monday, 08 October 2012 15:32 posted by Michael Milano

    I've often wondered about "Father God" thing.

    My take has always been if God is our Father, shouldn't Children and Family Services have taken us away from Him by now?

    He's a pretty neglectful parent if you ask me.

    The Crusades, The Holocaust, genocide, slavery... I get the whole free will thing, but at some point a parent should step in. We're His children running wild with virtually no supervision.

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