A Patriarchical God?
Today, though speaking about God invites criticism, silence is no answer. A word then about God-language. God, who is beyond all human language, reveals the Divine I-AM-Who-Am as masculine in the Hebrew scriptures. God is Adonai (Lord), Melech (King), Avinu (Our Father). These are figurative and not a literal ways of speaking about the ineffable source and creator of the universe. Nevertheless, God as father, is revealed in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
To some, the name father ascribes gender to God. Such language, they say, confirms a patriarchal system that keeps women subservient and prevents them from gender equality.
Extreme feminism faults a patriarchal culture for developing the doctrine of the Father’s eternal relationship to the Son. Accordingly, “the Christian tradition has made the image of God’s fatherhood literal. “. . . This tendency favors dominance of male over female onto God’s being, thereby eclipsing women as equal carriers of the divine image” (Catherine Mowry-Lacugna, “Fatherhood of God,” Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 520). Lacugna admits that Jesus did not refer to God as Amma (mother). However, within this view, ample doubt remains – a doubt that Jesus’ words about his Father addressed to his Father, are insufficient to justify, let alone prove, God’s eternal fatherhood. Why? Because they were written, interpreted, and developed in and by a patriarchal culture.
In the Johannine gospel alone, reference to the Father occurs more than 110 times. In chapter seventeen, Jesus’ prayer to his Father reveals what the Father means to Jesus. It gives us an intimate sense of the relationship between Father and Son. As revealed dogma, the procession of Son from the Father, according to their one nature, is literally true. Did Jesus not know better?
The Prodigal Son and the Mothering Father
To this day, the parable of the Prodigal Son remains one of the best-loved gospel narratives. In the parable, the father breathes with his son, they are so interior to each other. The father is continually looking for his return. When the boy is sighted from a distance looking like a wretch, his father immediately calls for a celebration. His love is not only without limit; it is unconditional, spontaneous, emotional, and nurturing – over the top. He is a mothering father.
The Disappearing Father of Jesus
As we believe, so we pray; as we pray, so we believe, goes a revered church dictum. Without the fatherhood of God, the Church’s dogma of the Trinity collapses. Without the fatherhood of God, how then do we begin all our prayers? “In the name of the (?)” “Glory to the (?) and to the Son (?) and to the Holy Spirit. The Father gives us the Spirit through his Son. Because the Eucharistic sacrifice is addressed to the Father, what happens if the Father is purged from our liturgical language? Without the Father, how are new Christians made members of the Body of Christ in baptism? The creator, redeemer, and sanctifier are not relations but functions. The Trinitarian relationship falls to pieces.
For this reason, the Father must be the addressee of prayer, praise, thanksgiving, and petition” (Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, 155-6). All blessings of fatherhood find their origin in the Fatherhood of God, the point of departure and goal of the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. From the Father come blessing, grace, love, mercy, consolation, and joy to all fathers.
Happy Father’s Day!
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