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I believe in the Father

GodI believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

This is the fourth post in a series on the Creed.

The first is Apostles’ Creed.
The second is I believe in God.
The third is a source of the Apostles’ Creed.

What does the word “father” mean for you? For many it is a good word, conjuring up positive emotions and concepts. For some it is not.

I am not suggesting abandoning the historic usage. But for those who find “father” a negative image, one can translate that image internally.

For some people, such reworking immediately receives cries of heresy! Modalism!

Let’s just switch to Te Reo Maori:

E whakapono ana ahau ki te Atua, ki te Matua Kaha rawa,…

“Father” becomes “Matua”. Literally “Parent”. For some people, however, the word “parent” also will not convey the positive that is intended in the Creed.

So what is intended in the Creed? Would “friend” be an image that might replace “father”?

I think that “friend” holds many of the positives, but there are some things I think that are involved in the concept “father” that are not maintained in “friend” and need to be maintained.

So what does the metaphor “father” include? God is personal. At least personal (in fact, beyond the metaphor, God is more than personal). One with whom we can have a relationship.
God is source. Source of all. creator of heaven and earth. Ko ia te Kai-hanga o te rangi, o te whenua
God loves us.

There are some things I think that the word “father” can confuse.

God is not a male. The First Person of the Trinity is not a male. God is not a man.

What does the word “father” lead you to image?
What word might you use instead?
What points and images do you see as needing to be preserved from the word “father”?
What points and images do you see the word “father” confusing?

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21 Responses to I believe in the Father

  1. What a great article! I struggle with the Apostle’s creed because of this very sentence! The word “father” invariably conjures up an image of maleness to me…an image of maleness that is NEVER countered by the church or the church’s liturgy, in my experience. This leads me to imagine God as male – which is problematic, and especially problematic as a female! While I find many positives in the analogy of God as Father, I find something deep missing when we never speak of God as Mother. I will often speak – at the risk of being called out for heresy, I geuss – the Apostle’s creed as “I believe in God, the Mother almighty”. Recently I’m toning down a bit and in public saying “maker” or “creator” instead of “father” as often as I can in liturgy and hymns. I replace “he” with “she” or or “god” – not because “he” is WRONG, but because it is limited and needs to be balanced out!

    • Thanks, Teresa. There is some good liturgical material that speaks of God as Mother. There is some good church tradition around this. And, of course, Jesus imaged himself as mother. I would also think we need to move beyond merely balancing; but that is a story I’ve written about under “apophatic”. Blessings.

  2. This is tough as Jesus referred to God as Father, Abba, the one who creates and gives paternal care and protection to us. We do not know what sex if any God has. we do know we are made in his image and likeness, male and female. Perhaps we should focus on the ideal, what is the ideal father, mother, parent; God the one who loves us all.

    • Yes, Kevin, I think this implies for me a very positive image that Jesus received from his life with Joseph. John 5:19-20 reads very much like a very positive apprenticeship experience in Joseph’s workshop. Many others do not have such a positive father role-model. Experiencing “God as father” may, for them, be healing; but it may also be unreachable – scarring their relationship with God.

      I cannot hold to your point that God may have a gender.

      I think your last point very important.

      Blessings.

  3. Benevolent Parent, like the best of a mother and best of a father, yet beyond our most wonderful imagination…

    • Thanks, Gary. From the NZ Prayer Book:

      Eternal Spirit,
      Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
      Source of all that is and that shall be,
      Father and Mother of us all,
      Loving God, in whom is heaven…

      Blessings.

  4. Kia ora Bosco,

    Like Teresa, I really appreciate your writing on this topic. I find images of God are both potentially illuminating and limiting, depending on how much I literalise and concretise them.

  5. Hello all.

    I’d offer the following, as a sort of musing over how we might approach a different word than ‘father’ or ‘mother’ or even ‘parent’. One of the Catholic theologian, James Alison’s, insights is that God likes us – not just loves us. I wonder if there is a word we can find that encompasses that ‘liking’, which (in the following quote), Alison (‘On Being Liked’, p15) shows is a very deep and transforming thing:

    The staggering thing that this means, for me, is that the most extraordinary fruit of contemplation of the shadow of the violence which we are experiencing is this: God likes us. All of us. God likes me and I like being liked. It has nothing to do with whether we are bad or good, indeed, he takes it for granted that we are all more or less strongly tied up in the sacred lie. In teaching after teaching he makes the same point: all are invited, bad and good. Those are our categories, part of the problem not part of the solution, not God’s category. God’s ‘category’ for us is ‘created’ and ‘created’ means ‘liked spaciously, delighted in, wanted to give extension, fulfilment, fruition to, to share in just being’. We are missing out on something huge and powerful and serene and enjoyable and safe and meaningful by being caught up in something less than that, an ersatz perversion of each of those things. And because God likes us he wants us to get out of our addiction to the ersatz so as to be come free and happy.
    I want to say something more: behind the word ‘like’ there is an astonishing gentleness. The word ‘love’ which we have vastly overused can have for us the meaning of a forceful intervention to rescue us, and we can forget that behind a forceful intervention to rescue us, which may be indeed how love is shown in a particular circumstance, there is something much stronger, gentler and more continuous, not dependent at all on needing to rescue us. This is liking us. What I want to suggest is that the word like in all its gentleness is the word appropriate for the extraordinarily unbothered, non-emergency power we mean by creation.

  6. I understand why some have anguish over these words on the creeds, in the ‘Our Father’.the last words attributed to Jesus to Mary Magdalen. Whatever God may be i cannot conceive of him as sexual so changing to mother, parent etc seems to me just verbal games. Whayever else he was Jesus was human and a Jew of his time who largely saw the godhead in patriarchal terms- basicallt evident in the Torah. On reflection etc. such a vision seems more than inadequate but I see no point in changing what was then thought, written.

  7. Interesting post, Colin. “Father” is not a metaphor but a name. The Tradition has never taught that God is male, though clearly the Father-Son relation gives rise to that impression. When we speak of God’s “paternal” feelings toward us, that is a metaphor, which needs balancing with maternal language, as does the prayer you reference a NZ Prayer Book.

    It’s a subtle distinction, but necessary to maintain. Else we slide into a reductionist view of the Godhead, as you point out. That leads to an impoverished view of our salvation, our personal relationship to God through Christ in the Spirit, in short, the whole of our faith.

    • Thank you for your contribution here, Bishop Pierre. [I am not sure if you are addressing this comment to Colin, or to me, or to both of us 🙂 ]

      I think that your suggestion that “Father” is God’s name is an interesting model, worth exploring. But it has its limitations IMO. A name is mostly not descriptive of the person – I am not sure that people readily associate a “Pierre-ness” about you? A name may have some slight variations from language to language, but not in the manner that “Father” varies in reference to God (Matua; Tatay; Otosan;…). We do not put a definite article before a name, “I believe in God the Father…”, nor the possessive, “Our Father…”.

      Those who are regular here know of my passion for the value of maintaining orthodox Trinitarian faith – but that is not dependent on the gender of our titles, as you clearly indicate.

      Blessings.

  8. Apropos to Colin’s post, and even though I think that God is above gender, there is a particular masculine gentleness (open and strong) that is just such a lovely reflection of God’s liking of us.

  9. Here are Brian Wren’s words for a powerful Unitarian Universalist hymn:

    Bring many names, beautiful and good,
    Celebrate, in parable and story,
    Holiness in glory, living, loving God.
    Hail and Hosanna! Bring many names!

    Strong mother God, working night and day,
    Planning all the wonders of creation,
    Setting each equation, genius at play:
    Hail and Hosanna, strong mother God!

    Warm father God, hugging every child,
    Feeling all the strains of human living,
    Caring and forgiving, till we’re reconciled:
    Hail and Hosanna, warm father God!

    Old, aching God, grey with endless care,
    Calmly piercing evil’s new disguises,
    Glad of good surprises, wiser than despair:
    Hail and Hosanna, old, aching God!

    Young, growing God, eager, on the move,
    Saying no to falsehood and unkindness,
    Crying out for justice, giving all you have:
    Hail and Hosanna, young, growing God!

    Great, living God, never fully known,
    Joyful darkness far beyond our seeing,
    Closer yet than breathing, everlasting home:
    Hail and Hosanna, great, living God!

    ( The melody/ pdf is here )

    • Thanks, Tracy. I’m not sure why you classify this as Unitarian Universalist. I’m sure they can use this, but it is sung beyond that community. Brian Wren was ordained in the United Reformed Church. The link to the melody is missing in your comment. Blessings.

  10. It’s not in any of the hymnals on my shelf except the Unitarian Universalist ‘Singing the Living Tradition’ but if it were published in 1987 then most of my books predate that.

    It is an interesting example though of the dichotomy of creating new representations of Christianity versus fundamentalist use of language, rhyme, Bible sources…

    To me it’s a beautiful representation of thoughts about how we experience God, but I would not be surprised if some of the concepts therein upset people- mother God especially, in a world which seems determined to deny women equal priesthood.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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