Mark Silk authored a recent essay in which he declared that the terms for God are metaphorical and can be easily replaced. Mr. Silk suggested calling God “they” to avoid patriarchal language. “A phrase such as ‘God the Father’ should be treated as a metaphor- and for those concerned about the embedded misogyny of the tradition, to say nothing of post-binary folks– a deeply problematic one.”
This is not a new suggestion. For many years some preachers and teachers have been using feminine pronouns to speak of God. For example, some have rewritten the Lord’s prayer to begin, “Our Mother which art in Heaven.” Is this an acceptable change? Given the many abuses that have been perpetrated by male church leaders, should Christian’s avoid masculine and fatherly terminology to describe God?
Mark Silk is accurate when he says the references to God as Father are metaphorical. God is not male in any biological sense. God is not a Father in any reproductive sense. God did not sire any children. Jesus is God the Son but that title speaks only to how members of the Trinity relate to one another. The name God the Son does not indicate that the second person of the Trinity is somehow the offspring or product of God the Father. God the Father and God the Son are equally eternal. Neither owe their existence to the other. Likewise, the description of the Christian as the child of God is a reference to a relationship that exists by adoption, not to any physical procreation on God’s part.
Since much of the Biblical language used of God is metaphorical, can we therefore replace problematic terms with ones less troublesome? No, Christian’s cannot call God by any extra-Biblical title or description they find most Biblical. God has revealed Himself in certain terms. Man dare not devise new descriptions of God. Biblical terminology about God is not literal, but it’s non-literalness does not imply inaccuracy. Rather, the metaphorical nature of many descriptions of God suggests truths greater than any one can understand.
The Bible is not the product of the mind of deeply religious men. The Bible is the product of God. Scripture was given directly by God the Holy Spirit through holy men of God. The human authors of the Bible wrote exactly what God intended. Every Word of God is true and accurate. Because the Bible is the Word of God it is the Christian’s authority. Because every Word of God is pure the Biblical language used to describe God must be submitted to. While God is not male in the physical human sense, He is undoubtedly masculine with a masculinity that transcends biological maleness. God is the Father of all creation and the Father of all saints in a way that transcends siring children. These terms are descriptions of God that accommodate the limitations of the human mind and they are also the only authoritative guides to understanding God.
Consider, not one time in the thousands of references to God does the Bible speak of God as “she.” Even in situations where mothering analogies are used, like the image of a mother hen sheltering her young under her wings, the pronouns for God remain masculine. “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou trust.” (Psalm 91:4) Past experiences may cause some to be uncomfortable with fatherly terminology, but the corrective is not a change of the way we describe God. The corrective is to develop a right understanding of God that we may think rightly about God our Father.