The blistering heat of an Alabama June weighed me down as I stood graveside, attending the funeral of my good friend's mother. Sadly, the words of the officiating minister weighed down my heart even more. Bedecked in garb intended to mark the liturgical season, the matronly minister raised her hands and admonished us all to join with her in saying the Lord's Prayer. What she proceeded to say was infinitely more damaging than the fact that she stood in a position that she was unqualified to hold.
"Let us call on God our mother when we pray," she said. After which, she solemnly bowed and led the gathering of mourners in her radically modified "Lord's Prayer."
Yes, I've read the books and have listened to the arguments of those who think that calling God "our mother" is not only sound logic but also good counsel. But I remain unconvinced for all the reasons that have been rehearsed in almost every major systematic theology. Others have addressed the issue with great skill and clarity, and there is no need to rehearse the arguments.
Instead, the practical question I want to address is: Does it really make a difference in our lives if we think of God as mother rather than father? Or is it just an issue of semantics? After all, the Bible does say that God is a "Spirit" (john 4:24).
The problem with that sort of thinking is it is only tethered to human logic. Knowing all too well how inconsistent we can be, we are better off asking: "What does the Bible consistently teach?" Words have meaning, and we must respond to what the text actually says not what we would wish to insert. Since the Bible is not a buffet line of semantically arranged choices to pick and choose from, we use the word "Father" when we pray because:
1. The Word "Father" reveals His divine nature.
The Triune God is one, eternally existing in three divine Persons who are equal in essence but different in personal expressions through one undivided and eternal divine nature. What distinguishes the Father from the Son and Holy Spirit is not deity, for they are all equally and fully God. The distinguishing mark is the fact that the Father has a unique relationship with the Son and a unique relationship with Holy Spirit.
Yes, the Bible does occasionally describe God using humanly feminine terms (deut 32:18; isa 42:14; 66:13). However the context of such passages makes it abundantly clear that these are metaphors and personifications. The Bible never uses feminine terms, names, or titles to invoke the Father. Rather, it uses masculine terminology. In other words, "Father" is not just a description of God, it's who He is.
Calling God "Father" is not like adding personification to an inanimate object. He reveals Himself as Father on every page of Scripture because this is who He really is. "Father" is how He truly relates to the Son (rom 8:32, luke 2:49, john 5:36, eph 1:3, phil 2:9-11) and how He truly relates to us (matt 5:45; rom 8:31-32; heb 12:7-11; james 1:17). Therefore, we cannot abandon or replace His Fatherly identity with an alternate word.