Thursday, August 12, 2010

Our Father in Heaven

The Anchoress today raises the issue of "gender-inclusive" language when referring to God.

In a former parish, there was a sister-liturgist who–eager to promote “sensitivity”–decided that the Gloria should be sung with the refrain “Glory to God in the Highest, and peace to God’s people on earth;” she was content to brutalize the ear, change a liturgical prayer that is not supposed to be changed, and disorient the people just a tad, in order that no one should be subjected to that troubling male pronoun, “His.”

I always thought it was a nonsensical point; why go to the trouble of training the people to avoid the “His” in that sung prayer, when it proceed to refer to God as “Heavenly King, Almighty God and Father,” and to Jesus as “only Son of the Father.” And of course, I got into a civil debate with her about it.

“You don’t understand,” she said kindly (because she was a very kind sister) “it’s important that we begin to think of God as having no gender at all, containing aspects of both mother and father, but not limited to our understanding as 'Father.' . . . There are a lot of people in the world who have had bad fathers, they have bad memories, a lot of people find referring to God as Father to be distancing and hurtful. They cannot relate.” . . .

Well of course God is neither male nor female, He simply IS. Even Joseph Ratzinger, called an ultra-harsh misogynist by those who knew nothing of him, has said so many times in his writings and addresses, that God, being Complete, has both paternal and maternal qualities, before and after he became Pope Benedict XVI.

However, notwithstanding this truth about the nature of God, Jesus did invite us to call God in heaven "Father," did He not?

Was Jesus wrong? Or just being insensitive or ignorant? Did He not know that a lot of people find referring to God as “Father” to be distancing and hurtful?

Besides, there is also the whole relationship between God and Israel being described in spousal terms in the Bible, with Israel being the Bride. And that same spousal relationship has described Christ and the Church since the beginning. I suppose in this day and age of same-sex "marriage," it would no longer be absurd to stop referring to God as a "He," but then we have that pesky problem of the Word of God using "He" to refer to "Him."

And the fact is that not only do a lot of people today have biological fathers who are bad and abusive, but they also have biological mothers who are mean or distant or abusive. (I won't say that my own mother is bad, she's not, but we do not have the greatest and most perfect of relationships. There are occasional tensions, as most people have with their own earthly mothers. But Jesus also said that we could call His own mother our "mother," which does not cause me to think less of Mary, but thankful that I could look to her for maternal love.) And there are plenty of brothers and sisters and neighbors and strangers and even enemies who we have bad memories of. Indeed, the world is full of jerks.

So transferring references about God to something other than "Father" or "He" really doesn't solve the problem. Whichever alternative pronoun we use has bad associations with it as well. And transferring references to some out-of-this-world concept that is totally foreign to our common understanding only ends up creating a distant and unrelatable God. That is even worse!

The spousal meaning of the body of man, male and female, being made in the likeness and image of God, reveals how we are social creatures who are made for relationship, not only any relationship, but that very special and intimate relationship which, through love, is capable of communion, a relationship which is not only unitive, but fruitful. And we are made for such relationships, not only amongst ourselves, but between mankind and God.

In that relationship with God, mankind is the "female." We are the bride, the mother. This is again revealed in the human body, which is fruitful, that is, it produces children. But we do not produce children by our own self-made fertility, we make them with the Creator of all things. We did not make ourselves, God made us. If mankind is the female, then God necessarily must accomplish the role of the "male," the bridegroom, the father. He is rightly, then, called "He." (We see this quite plainly when the Virgin Mary conceives by the power of the Holy Spirit, who thus is not to be thought of as some neutral or androgynous being, an "It", but as a "He.")

God is not really exclusively "male" or "female," of course, He is neither, and He is both. As the "I Am," He is not limited or incomplete in this way, as are humans made to be. But it is crucial that we think of Him in understandable terms of relationship -- the spousal relationship that He Himself has chosen as the model throughout all of Salvation History -- if we are to ever come close to knowing Him and being able, then, to love Him and allow Him to love us.

1 comment:

Jan said...

So transferring references about God to something other than "Father" or "He" really doesn't solve the problem.

Except that anyone with half a brain doesn't see a problem to begin with. God is God, no matter what we call Him.

Not a perfect analogy, but with a little imagination, this works for me:

'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.