Can we call God,
This month our
congregation is focusing on memorizing or reviewing the Lord’s Prayer,
which is also known among Catholics as the “Our Father” (Matt 6:9-13).
(See the article on the
Can we address
God as “Father”?
Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer by
inviting us to address God as “Father” (Gk. pater). A few verses
before the Lord's Prayer, Jesus provides an important perspective on his
understanding of the term, "Father":
Matt 5:44-45. “I say to you, ‘Love your enemies
and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of
your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the
good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous’” (NRSV).
This is not a finger-shaking,
self-seeking, wrath-dealing father. Rather, Jesus teaches us that the
Father loves enemies, seeking impartially to nurture all people
irrespective of their attitudes about God. God is the Source and
In another passage, Jesus talks
about prayer and says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good
gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the
Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13; RSV).
Notice that the “good gifts” that
the Father gives is the Holy Spirit. That is, the gift is God himself.
God offers himself to us in prayer.
Is God also
However, it is not enough to think
of God as Father. The Bible also compares God’s love with the love of a
mother: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (Isa
66:13; NRSV). God’s compassion (Heb. racham) is also
expressed in terms of a mother’s womb (Heb. rechem): “Can
a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of
her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isa 49:15;
NRSV). God’s care for people is as intimate and interconnected as a
mother to a fetus. No masculine imagery expresses that closeness!
Nevertheless, God is never called
“mother” in the Bible. Mother is an image, not a title for God. Of
course, God is neither male nor female, but Creator of male and female.
So why does the Bible prefer
“Father” for God? Scholars speculate that when the Bible was written,
the mother-deities of surrounding nations painted a picture of God that
was opposed to the biblical image. Mother-deities blurred the
distinction between Creator and creature. People were viewed as
emanations of deities, an implied pantheism. In contrast, by referring
to God as Father, the biblical writers stressed God’s otherness and
power, while denying the divinity of human beings, especially rulers.
Should we use
Just before the Lord’s Prayer is
introduced in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus warns about false forms of prayer,
including pretentious prayer and the mindless recitation of formulas
(Matt 6:5-7). Prayer must be personal. It arises from our own hearts,
from our needs, our hopes, our suffering. It is silent inward communion
with God punctuated by words, images, and thoughts.
But personal prayer is not enough.
We need prayers that express the human encounter with God as experienced
by the Church as a whole. In this way, formulaic prayers, like the
Lord’s Prayer, put our narrow interests in the context of God’s boarder
purposes. For this reason, the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t simply begin with
“Father,” but “Our Father,” the first person plural. In this way, “we”
come to God together, as brothers and sisters, as children of one God.