I am what you might call “old school.” When I grew up, we children were taught to pray to God, our Father. In confirmation class I learned Luther’s explanation of the introduction of the Lord’s Prayer: “Here God encourages us to believe that he is truly our Father and we are his children. We therefore are to pray to him with complete confidence just as children speak to their loving father.” Because it was natural for us to call him Father, it also was natural to refer to him with the masculine pronouns: He, his, himself.
Much later, when I was teaching confirmation class myself, I learned that for some of my confirmands it was not easy to picture God as a loving father. One boy had an abusive father who would beat him mercilessly. A girl’s father was an alcoholic and neglected his family. And over the years there were more children who grew up in a home without a father.
I first had to teach these children what a good father was like before I could make them understand that God was indeed the best father we could imagine.
Still later I learned that the God of the Scriptures, our Father, has many motherly qualities. In the wonderful passage in Isaiah 66:13, God says to us: “ As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you.” Jesus compares himself with a mother hen gathering her little chicks under her wing (Matt. 23:37). A beautiful image of a caring and protecting Savior!
But nowhere in the Scriptures is God called Mother.
For the last several decades we have heard from feminist theologians that a male image of God is offensive to women. And there are other offensive names of God, which must be eliminated. Recently an Episcopal church in Tucson wanted to eliminate the word “Lord” as a loaded term, conveying hierarchical power over things “which in what we have recorded in our sacred texts, is not who Jesus understood himself to be.” I wonder what those people will do with a passage like Philippians 2:11: “Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In our new hymn book, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, the masculine pronoun for God (he, him, himself) has been carefully excised from all the psalms and most of the hymns. Many say that God is gender-less. But that makes him some sort of nebulous figure, neither father nor mother — although some of the feminists lean more toward the mother title.
When I pray, I cannot pray to some kind of nebulous being. I have in my mind the image of a father who
loves me and cares for me. I believe that it is the image which Jesus gave us in the Lord’s Prayer.
Lacking such an image and trying to rationally explain what God is like we fall back into the time of the Enlightenment. One of its chief proponents was the German philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). In his attempt to explain the world and the universe he thought of a system of monads, indestructible power substances which rise from the lower forms (matter) to souls and spirits (angels) to the central monad, which is God.
I’m sorry, but I cannot pray to a monad, not to a gender-less God. Since I am “old school,” I cling to the image of the Father, the way Jesus taught us.