Are you able to call God Father?
Some people are not. Many people had horrible fathers that abused them. Many people didn’t know their fathers because they walked out. Many people associate the term father with a long, painful history of male domination and the negative aspects of a patriarchal society.
These people would rather not call God father and there is a growing theological movement seeking a gender-neutral language.
I get it. I am sympathetic to the movement and I believe there is a definite need for a theological reframing and re-education to make sure people understand that God is not male or female…or an “it.” God is the creator of life and the male-female of humanity is the image of God. We can just as easily refer to God as mother or strong tower as we can father.
Yet, I am one of the fortunate. I have an amazing father. He has modeled God’s unconditional love, grace, and covenant faithfulness to me throughout my entire life. My Dad and I meet for coffee at 6:30am, once a week, since the day my wife and kids and I moved back to Minnesota 8.5 years ago.
It is easy for me to call God Father, Dad, Abba.
Why do I ask?
This weekend I have the task of introducing the Lord’s Prayer from Luke 11:2-4 on the 4th of July weekend: Independence Day. I find this to be a fascinating juxtaposition of ideas. Here we are, as United States citizens, blowing up gunpowder in the sky, waving the flag, and celebrating our independence while Jesus teaches his disciples that they are dependent upon God; that they can call out to God as Father and ask for help and protection.
How de we reconcile an ethos of independence with a dependence on Father God?
Here are two thoughts:
First, Independence is not the ultimate goal of society. The path of maturity for human development moves through three basic stages:
Dependence. An infant will die if left alone. A child is completely dependent upon a more mature human for survival. The child is not able—physically, intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually—to survive and thrive.
Independence. The adolescent must go through a process of weaning from the dependence phase. She must learn that she is now physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually able to encounter life as an individual and make choices without the supervision of those upon whom she depended as a child. This is good and right, and often very painful for the family system.
Interdependence. While the process of learning independence is good and healthy, it is not reality. The truth of the universe is that nothing exists completely alone and nothing has everything within itself to survive. All things are interdependent upon other things for survival. The mature human recognizes the truth of Genesis 2:18 when God said that it was not good for the man to be alone. We were created for community and we must learn to rely upon each other, offering our strengths and allowing other’s strengths to complement our weaknesses.
Secondly, the significance of the term Father when referring to God is not the masculinity of it, but the relationality of it. Think about that.
You can talk to God.
God listens to you.
Like a loving parent, God desires to be in relationship with you.
The goal of our spiritual formation is the same as the rest of our developmental process. And, God is the Father through all of it.
We begin in total dependence on God, because we don’t know anything about being a child of God. My Dad set clear rules and enforced those rules with reward and punishment when I was a child. Yet, through it all, I never questioned whether he loved me. But, he was big man and a healthy “fear” of his disapproval or correction definitely kept me in line. Likewise, a spiritually immature person needs a Father who shows unconditional love, but also operates with concrete rules and swift reward and punishment. The Law dominates the season of dependence.
As we mature, we begin to question our black and white theology. We encounter theological systems that are radically different than our own, but somehow seem right. Sometimes, this cognitive dissonance even leads us to rebel against our father and storm out of the the family system for a while. This breaks our father’s heart, but it never shuts off the love.
So, God waits for the independent, arrogant, child to learn the next lesson.
We all need our Dads.
When I was thirty-nine years old my world fell apart. I was broken. I was beaten. My arrogance and self-reliance had reached its end. Where did I turn? To Mom and Dad.
I came home.
Now I sit across the table at the coffee shop with my Dad once a week. And we talk. We are friends. I have my own ideas and I share them with him. He is my Dad and always will be. I desperately need his advice on a weekly basis.
Jesus told his disciples, “I no longer call you servants, but I call you friends.”
The goal of spiritual formation is a mature, interdependent relationship with God and with each other.
So, as we celebrate our Independence as a nation this weekend, may we never forget our ultimate goal to be interdependent in this world.
I hope you can talk to your Heavenly Father every day.