Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Metaphorical Use of "Father" for God

One friend once asked me: "Why the reticence about its [the term "Father"] applying to God's being? Why think that it couldn't?"

I replied:

First, let us prescind from the matter of God being
"Father" with respect to the eternal generation of the
Son or the Son's creation, as I believe. In whatever
sense God is Father, and we both agree that He is
"Father" in some sense, let's agree to bracket such
notions and consider the concept of divine fatherhood

I hesitate to think of "Father" as an ontological
designation because I don't believe one can hold this
position consistently when it comes to theological
metaphors. Let's also be clear what I mean by saying
the title "Father" does not apply ontologically. I
mean to say that God is not masculine (which I
distinguish from maleness) ontologically nor has the
deity somehow brought forth (in a manner closely
resembling the human reproduction process) a Son.

When I state that it seems one cannot consistently
believe God is Father in that the divine one is
transcendently masculine, some examples may explain my
position better than propositions would detail it.
Consider that Ps 23:1 refers to YHWH as David's
Shepherd. If we think of God as a Shepherd in His very
being, what sense does that make? Are we to believe
that God exemplifies the properties of a shepherd,
whatever they are to some eminent and transcendent
degree? Moreover, the apostle John's Apocalypse speaks
of God and the Lamb as the temple of New Jerusalem. To
me, the description is a metaphor of God and the
Lamb's function in relation to the figurative
eschatological city. Do you believe that Revelation
21:23 refers to God ontologically as the temple of New
Jerusalem? That is, is God more of a temple than the
temple in Jerusalem was? Stated another way, does the
Christian deity instantiate the properties of a temple
more transcendently than Solomon's Temple did?
Finally, Paul refers to Jerusalem above [edited] as the "mother"
of Christians. Please explain to me how Galatians 4:26
applies to the Church's being [ontos], rather than to its
function. In what sense is the Church ontologically

[Note: My interlocutor believes that Jerusalem above is the ecclesia.-EF]

John Cooper writes:

"From the time of the Church Fathers, teachers of the
faith have used this doctrine [of divine genderlessness]
to explain that calling God Father does not imply that God is MASCULINE.
Thus the doctrine helps us rightly to interpret Scripture. It
prevents us from wrongly inferring from the gendered
language in Scripture that God is MASCULINE while we
work to understand what this language does mean . . ."
(_Our Father in Heaven_, page 188-189).

On this issue, I must concur with Arnobius of Sicca (a
somewhat controversial early church figure) who
evidently is not being unorthodox when he queries:

"For who, however mean his capacity, does not know
that the sexes of different GENDER have been ordained
and formed by the Creator of the creatures of earth,
only that, by intercourse and union of bodies, that
which is fleeting and transient may endure being ever
renewed and maintained?" (Against the Nations 3.8)

IN NUCE, there is no need of gender where there is no
reproductive activity. God doesn't need to be
masculine or feminine QUOAD SE because God doesn't
literally produce little boys and girls, wee angels
and angelettes. :)

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