The three senses of "God the Father" – lessons from a Jewish scholar

I was recently surprised to be told that there is a large body of scholarly research emerging that has shown the common Christian assumption that Jesus invented the practice of praying to God as our Father is false.

Doing some of my own research, I came across an excellent article “God the Father in Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity: Transformed Background or Common Ground?” by Alon Goshen-Gottstein in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Vol. 38, 2001. If you have the time and inclination, there is a lot that can be learned from reading this article – more than you might initially think – about what the Church means when it prays to “God the Father”.

One of the things that I noted throughout the article is that Goshen-Gottstein regularly calls this way of speaking of God a “metaphor”. That is an issue that I have spoken of here before on this blog (eg. Here in a commentary on the ideas of Fr Kennedy at St Mary’s South Brisbane). I was beginning to take a rather strong issue with the author until I came to a section at the end entitled “Do Judaism and Christianity speak of the same Father?”.

At this point, his methhod differentiates between three ways of speaking of “God the Father” which, for him, correspond to the way in which this phrase is used by Jews, by Jesus, and by the Church/Christianity. And this is a very helpful distinction, even if you might quibble that the way in which Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels is a product of the early Christian Church (he does acknowledge the difficulty of speaking about what the “historical Jesus” said and taught). Here is a precis of his analysis.

The first level relates to religious language. Religious language contains manifold ways of speaking of God, and part of religious language is the use of metaphors. …Accordingly, when speaking of God as Father this would be taken as a metaphor… According to this first level of understanding, God is only Father by analogy…

The second sense refers to religious experience…. [It] may convey a real experience and thus give expression to the consciousness of the person relating to God as Father… [This] is quite distinct from intellectual lessons drawn by analogies based upon human language… The advancement from the first to the second level is not necessarily a conceptual advanceement. …It is the move from the more external dimension of religious language to the more direct impact of immediate cognition.

There is yet a third sense in which God-Father language could be employed: through metaphysical speculation. On this third level, an attempt is made to articulate divine reality “as it is.” Human language is not viewed as relative and subjective, belonging primarily to the realm of the human. Granting the appropriate qualifications, proper thought and articulate expression can provide a view of divine reality in and of itself. Human language is thus metaphysically endowed and serves as a vehicle for revealing higher truths.

He then correlates the first sense to the Jewish use of the term “God the Father”, the second sense to Jesus’ teaching and practice of prayer, and the third to the dogmatic assertions of the Christian Church. For me, the question is brought into sharp relief when we ask whether we can speak of God as “Mother”. Goshen-Gottstein writes:

For Judaism, both ancient and later, “Father” never ceases to be a metaphor… Because there is no absolute status to this description, it is complemented by a host of other descriptions, such as that of God as King… There is no absolute sense in which God is spoken of as Father, nor does the description of God as Father carry any absolute value. When one is pressed as to why God is Father rather than Mother, one can simply point to cultural habits, without needing to justify in some essential sense God’s paternity. Human language and concepts are relative and do not convey absolute truths… This is a cultural choice rather than a theological necessity.

Now, I think, he is onto something. When “God the Father” is viewed solely as a metaphor of religious language without any assertion about “God as he is” then of course, we must concede that it is culturally conditioned and therefore may be used, discarded or modified as culturally appropriate. Furthermore, in the second sense (that of personal relationship with God) it is not surprising that there may be some who, in terms of their spirituality, would prefer to relate to God as “Mother”. Yet Goshen-Gottstein recognises that this is not how the Church uses the phrase “God the Father”:

The teachings of the Christian church seem to me to belong to the third level in which Father language is applied. Indeed, here we encounter a new teaching concerning the nature of the Father… Within the context of the church’s teaching, a completely new understanding of divine fatherhood emerges. While this understanding is closely linked to Jesus’ personal experience of God the Father, it also constitutes a radical transformation of the understanding of God the Father. Let me quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

“Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father by his relationship to his only Son who, reciprocally, is Son only in relation to his Father: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” [quoting Mt. 11 :27].”…

Thus, “Father” ceases to be metaphorical and is to be understood as revealing something substantive about God. God’s paternity is essential to a proper understanding of God and, in fact, is a constitutive feature of the uniquely Christian teaching of God. In fact, one can say that “Father” becomes part of the very definition of God. Unless one has the proper understanding of father-son relations within the Godhead, one does not know God. Put differently, one cannot think of God without considering his paternity. To talk of God the Father is no longer an option available to human religious discourse; it is an essential component of the proper definition and understanding of what is meant when we say “God.

We might find it surprising that this fact should be so clear to a Jewish scholar while so many Christians have the issues entirely muddled (see the afore mentioned reference to Fr Kennedy’s ideas expressed in his defence of the baptismal formul “In the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier”).

I find Goshen-Gottstein’s analysis to be very helpful for us today. We can use “God the Father” as a metaphor. In this sense it may be said to be “culturally conditioned.” Individuals may, in their personal spiritual life of prayer, find it helpful to relate to God by means of other “metaphors”, eg. God as my “Mother”. But the distinctive thing about Christianity is that we claim that to speak of “God the Father” is speaking about the very essence of God’s nature as Trinity, and that for us, it is “not an option”.

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45 responses to “The three senses of "God the Father" – lessons from a Jewish scholar

  1. Arabella-m

    An excellent post on God as Father – Thank you, David, for that.
    It can be difficult to find such clear explanations for the reason we call God ‘Father’ but not ‘Mother’.

  2. Schütz

    Well, the beauty of this analysis, Arabella, is that it clarifies the option we have for using both “Father” and “Mother” as metaphors for God, and gives individuals who feel they must the freedom to relate to God as “Mother” (or “Big Blue Duck”, if they prefer) in their personal religious experience – and doesn’t find the need to condemn this experience.

    Nevertheless, it clearly points out that the Christian Church is obliged to confess God as “Father” in the sense that he is “Father” in his essence and being, and that it is in this sense, not the metaphorical sense or personal-spirituality-relational sense, that the Church uses the title “God the Father” in her public liturgy and teaching.

    And for that matter, “God the Son” and “God the Holy Spirit” and “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” etc.

    As an analogy, we could use this system to look at all our other religious language for God – eg. “Trinity” is neither a metaphorical nor a relational term for God, but a statement of God’s inner essense. “Shepherd” on the other hand is more strictly a metaphorical (1st Sense) and perhaps relational (2nd Sense – cf. Psalm 23) term than a statement of God’s essential nature (3rd Sense).

  3. Anonymous

    Aquinas would, I think, still say that even revealed language about God is analogical. That means – stronger than metaphor (which comprises most Biblical language)and literally true but not ‘univocally’ true – ie straightforwarly the same sort of thing we talk about when we talk of human fatherhood. It must always be more than we can imagine – the way of supereminence of the Thomistic commentators. A Thomist would also say that, though we righty talk of Goad as Father, God has no gender as such (because He has no parts or attributes separate from His essence) and pre-exercises all motherhood as well as all fatherhood and all other created potentialities.

    The main problem witht he South Brisbane baptismal formula is that it collapses the relational identity of the Three into mere ‘jobs’, whereas all the Persons are present in the works.

  4. Tony

    Sorry David, I think the logic of your argument is so laboured.

    We call God the ‘Father’ because it’s reflects something essential about the way He is?

    Surely this is just as true about calling Her mother?

    Surely both are monumentally inadequate but help us to experience God intimately?

    What we ‘call’ God is not about God’s essence, which is beyond us, but how we relate the God.

    To insist that one way of doing it is ‘more correct’ than another seems to limit God.

    And the “Big Blue Duck” is just stupid because there is no sense in which such a term expresses a deep, intimate relationship. Mother or Father does and both have that sense of creator and lover.

  5. Schütz

    Anonymous, while all human language about God may (philosophically speaking) be of necessity analogical, you are incorrect in your assumption that the Christian designation of God as “Father” has anything to do with gender or human parenthood – mother or father (I don’t really know what “created potentiality” means nor how God is supposed to “pre-exercise” all such potentialities). Goshen-Gottstein’s point is that God is essentially Father in Christian doctrine because of the Father-Son relationship within the Holy Trinity. This is not an analogy, much less a metaphor. The relationship between the First and Second Persons of the Holy Trinity is not “analogous to” that of a human father and son, much less to that of a human mother and daughter. It is the relationship of THE Father to THE Son.

    One might just add that since this is the case, and we usually use the masculine pronoun for anyone we call “Father” or “Son”, then it is entirely appropriate, and has nothing to do with metaphor or analogy or gender for that matter, to use the masculine pronoun for God.

  6. Schütz

    Tony: Thank you for demonstrating (far better than I could possibly characterise) precisely the popular misunderstandings that Goshen-Gottstein’s analysis helps to clarify.

    1) It’s not my argument, but Goshen-Gottstein’s. And there is nothing “laboured” about it at all.

    2) Remember that Goshen-Gottstein is offering a literary analysis of the way in which term “God the Father” is actually used in Christian and Jewish literature of the early centuries.

    3) I cannot find where either he or I used the term “reflects”. To say “reflects” is the language of metaphor (1st Sense), and that is precisely NOT the sense of metaphysical ontology (3rd Sense).

    So yes, if you are looking for language to “reflect” what God is like (ie. metaphor) you can use the Mother metaphor as well as any other.

    Christians confess God as he has revealed himself. Since through Jesus he has revealed himself as “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (just do a concordance search on that to see how common that designation is in St Paul, for eg.), it is not limiting him to use the precise designation he has himself given us.

    How we relate to God is all very important – but that is about personal spirituality, not public doctrine and praxis of the Church.

    And as for Big Blue Ducks, you would be amazed what some people are able to “relate” to…

  7. Past Elder

    This is GREAT NEWS! Finally, a few thousand years into the Mosaic Covenant, and two into the Christian one for those who believe it, we can understand what God REALLY meant! What a relief! And from a hyphenated rabbi! (Must be Reform, in which case is to be rejected out of hand.)

    So, there is no Historical Jesus and Christ of Faith, he was a straight shooter, a real third sense metaphysician, but there was an Historical Moses and a God of Faith, poor bleeder, just expresseing the best he could in the metaphors he had his experience of God floundering around in there among the first two senses.

  8. Schütz

    I’m sorry, PE, did you actually read the essay the “hyphenated rabbi” wrote, or are you judging his thesis according to my own poor summation?

    I must confess taht I can’t recognise either in your characterisation.

  9. Past Elder

    That’s because you like your bs in a nice tall mixed drink with a swizzler with an umbrella on top, rather than straight, no chaser.

    It posits a “thrid sense” to Christian teaching whereas this sort of thing generally applies what are called the first and second to both, end of story.

    So there can’t be Brians and CA but a Jewish Brian and a Judaica Australia would be OK. First and second sense myth making stops with Chtistianity who have a third.

    Maybe I’ll send him a Hertz Chumash and Bishop Sheen’s Old Errors New Labels for Hannukah. I’ll think of something else for the remaining days.

    The pay-off is a way for Christians to retain the historical critical dogma without disturbing their belief, although the part about Jews and Gentiles being saved the same way might be a little problematic but easily overcome.

  10. Schütz

    Okay, I think I understand you. You are saying the direct opposite to Tony above.

    Tony asserts that the only way in which we can use the term “God the Father” is in the first and second sense (which he mish-mashes together).

    You say that the only way we can use the term “God the Father” is in the third sense, although the first and second would then derive from that third.

    You object to the good Rabbi “having it both (or three) ways”, because that allows him to stay comfortable in his Jewish First Sense (while allowing that Jewish individuals could adopt the second sense) because he has pigeon-holed the third sense as peculiarly Christian.

    Do I follow you so far?

    If so, I think you are being unfair to the good Rabbi.

    He is simply pointing out that what is unique to Christian theology is not the designation “God the Father”, but the understanding that this is MORE than a metaphor (first sense) and even MORE than a term of personal spirituality (second sense). He is acknowledging that Christianity is unique in asserting that God is ACTUALLY PER SE “Father”.

    And I think in that he does us all a great service. Sometimes the clarification of differences is essential for the understanding of the other.

    My point is that his schema then allows us to clarify (in the INTRA-Christian debate) what the discussion is about when it comes to “non-sexist” language about God. It is not about metaphor. It is not about spirituality. It is about metaphysical reality. Thus, as I have argued elsewhere, “Father” is a NAME for God (not a metaphor or simply a term of endearment) and thus (as is usually the case in the Hebrew understanding of a Name) reveals the essence of God.

    Nevertheless this does not preclude us Christains telling parables in which God is LIKE a father (first sense) or for that matter LIKE a mother (still first sense). It does not preclude us Christians from developing a personal spirituality in which we relate to God as MY Father (second sense) or for that matter MY Mother (still second sense). BUT it does mean that while we can say that God IS Father in his very essence (third sense – just as he IS Son and IS Spirit) we cannot say that he IS Mother (in the third sense).

    And that is my point. Nothing else.

  11. Past Elder

    Judas in the refectory.

    If there is only the first and second sense as rabbi-rabbi says, then how can there be a Hebrew sense in which a name reveals something of the essence of thw named? That ain’t part of the first and second sense!

  12. Schütz

    No, you are right, but then Rabbi “Rabbi-Rabbi” does not recognise “Father” as a Name for God. If he did, he would have to recognise the third use (the “unique” Christian use) as being valid. And here is his point: the term “God the Father”, while common in rabbinical writings, is not received as a revealed Name for God, but chosen by the rabbis themselves as an appropriate metaphor for God.

    Whereas we believe that Jesus (“the Son”) revealed something essential about God when he taught us the Name of his “Father in Heaven”.

    That’s the point. Are you getting it yet?

  13. Tony

    David,

    My response has been tardy, it’s taken this long to recover from your stinging rebuke!

    1) It’s not my argument, but Goshen-Gottstein’s. And there is nothing “laboured” about it at all.

    I should have made it clear that I meant ‘your’ in the first and second level sense!

    2) Remember that Goshen-Gottstein is offering a literary analysis of the way in which term “God the Father” is actually used in Christian and Jewish literature of the early centuries.

    He wasn’t saying anything about now?

    3) I cannot find where either he or I used the term “reflects”. To say “reflects” is the language of metaphor (1st Sense), and that is precisely NOT the sense of metaphysical ontology (3rd Sense).

    Oh for crying out loud! ‘Metaphysical Ontology’ smology!

    ” … he is Father not only in being Creator …” has nothing to do with ‘metaphysical ontology’, it’s the language of cultural construction — and pretty ancient cultural construction — that equates ‘maleness’ with ‘creation-ness’. It’s not a ‘new teaching concerning the nature of the Father’, it sits slap bang in the middle of your level’s one and two.

    I’m off to count the number of angels on the head of a pin!

  14. Schütz

    Tony: He wasn’t saying anything about now?

    No, I don’t think so. That was me making the application. He was arguing against a common misunderstanding (since Jeremias?) that there was something unique about the Christian use of the term “God the Father”. He was saying that this is not unique to Christianity, in fact, it is common in the Rabbinical literature, and hence would have been a designation that was familiar to Jews at the time of Jesus (which is why they could understand what he meant by this terminology).

    What he was pointing to was the unique meaning that first Jesus and then then the Church gave to this term in the literary evidence of the first centuries.

    Tony: ” … he is Father not only in being Creator …” has nothing to do with ‘metaphysical ontology’, it’s the language of cultural construction — and pretty ancient cultural construction — that equates ‘maleness’ with ‘creation-ness’. It’s not a ‘new teaching concerning the nature of the Father’, it sits slap bang in the middle of your level’s one and two.

    And this is precisely where the good Rabbi (not me – him – although me too!) disagrees with you. His evidence agrees with you that the metaphorical use is culturally determined – as in the spiritual/relational use. BUT he points out that when the Church begins to define God AS Father in his very being it is consciously stepping out of the culturally appropriate metaphorical level and into a dogmatic, metaphysical level.

    You are quite entitled to say that the metaphorical, culturally conditioned use preceeds the dogmatic metaphysical use, but the point is that what is uniquely Christian (in the literary evidence) is that Christian dogma insists that God IS Father in a way that is normative for Christian theology.

    That IS a “new teaching” concerning the nature of God. The rabbinical literature contains no comparable insistence.

    You may chose to reject this. Fair enough, I can’t convince you. But your preference shows greater faithfulness to rabbinical tradition than to Christian tradition.

    That’s all I am saying, and I am saying on the basis of his scientific analysis of the literature.

  15. Tony

    David,

    What interests me is the notion ‘ … that Christian dogma insists that God IS Father …’.

    It’s the ‘isness’ thing really. It’s the notion that, in the context that knowing anything expressible in language about the nature of God — beyond ‘God is’ –is way beyond us, we can apply ‘father’ as part of God’s ‘isness’.

    Father is human, father is gender, father is one half of creation (in terms of procreation) … so how is ‘God is father’ anything more than an analogy dependent on our cultural understanding of ‘father’.

    Perhaps to illustrate the point. I know some people for whom the term ‘father’ means ‘terror, fear, anger, danger …’. What does the term ‘God is father’ mean unless it is accompanied by ‘well this is what we mean by ‘father’ (ie, this is the cultural construct we want you to operate by). Or do we say, ‘OK, we can pass on the ‘God is father’ thing for you guys’?

    It might be OK for you to, in a detached manner, say ‘you may reject this’ but I think it renders your (sic) third level not very useful or credible.

    I can’t see how you (sic) can elevate a term like ‘father’ to this ‘3rd level’. It just doesn’t, by its nature, belong there.

  16. Louise

    Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us to call God “Father” and that’s good enough for me.

  17. Tony

    In the context of this discussion however Louise, the question is what level was Jesus speaking on? One, two or three?

  18. Schütz

    Tony: “It’s the ‘isness’ thing really. It’s the notion that, in the context that knowing anything expressible in language about the nature of God — beyond ‘God is’ –is way beyond us, we can apply ‘father’ as part of God’s ‘isness’.”

    Well, Tony, can I suggest that you have a good long think about this issue, because (believe me) you have a very clear idea of what God IS and IS NOT, despite your protestations.

    You have an idea that “the nature of God…is way beyond us”. You are fairly dogmatic about that point. You are saying “God IS such that nothing can be known about God’s true nature”. That in itself is a statement about the very nature of God. About who and what God IS.

    I contend that in fact you have a very clear belief about the essential nature of God – but that “Father” doesn’t enter this picture.

    Let me take just one example: I would expect that you are a mono-theist. Why? How do you know? Or is God not so far “beyond us” that we are unable (by reason alone) to perceive that God must, of necessity, be ONE?

    And if God really IS One, is this not something that we KNOW about his very being?

    Hindus, for eg., don’t “know” that. In fact they think that for us to speak of God as One is inherently problematic.

    But then something which reason does not teach (but which we as Christians profess to “know”) is that God is TRIUNE. Get that: Three in One. How do we “know” this? If we respond that it is because we “know” by reason that there must be “multiplicity” in God’s “unity”, then why do we stop at three? In fact, our Muslim friends ask us why we think God should be specifically THREE in One: Not four in one, or Two in One or 5000 in One.

    There is only one reason why Christians believe in a God who is by nature Triune: because that is the way in which God has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

    Or perhaps the Doctrine of the Trinity just “metaphor”? “Metaphor” for what? For something to act as a “metaphor” there has to exist something else to which it is analogous: ie. there must be other things that are “triune”. But there isn’t. The Christian Church had to invent a word for this.

    My point is that the Christian confession of God as Father (or as Son or as Holy Spirit) rests squarely on exactly the same bases that our faith in the Triunity of God rests: Revalation through Jesus Christ.

    And of Christ himself we are told that he is the “Image of the Invisible God”. Unless you take THIS as metaphor too, that must mean that what is “way beyond us” in God – ie. Invisible – has been made visible to us in Christ. Ie. in Christ, The-Way-Beyond-God has drawn near to us. He has, in fact, become the God-With-Us.

    My whole beef is that too many Christians are operating with a view of God which is based more on Platonic or Aristotelian philosophy than on the direct experience of God which we have known through Jesus Christ the Eternal Logos of the Father.

    When we allow culturally determined philosophical dogmas about God’s essence (such as “God is way beyond us”) to limit our openness to who God may or may not be, rather than callibrate our images of God according to the One True Image (the Human-God-
    With-Us of the Crib and the Cross), we bind ourselves to an idolatry no less false (despite its gloss of sophistication) than the worship of Baal and Moloch.

  19. Louise

    Three, as far as I can tell, Tony. Why would He instruct us to call God “Father” if He is not, in fact, our Father in some real way?

    Now, as it happens, I can’t see why God isn’t also our Mother, given that both male and female are made in God’s image. Yet God’s Fatherhood has greater importance for some reason, because that is what Jesus taught us to call Him.

    One of the Saints (I forget which) actually spoke of Jesus Himself as “mother” – in private devotion there is quite a bit of latitude. Not so, in doctrine.

  20. Tony

    … you have a very clear idea of what God IS and IS NOT, despite your protestations.

    I have a ‘very clear’ idea that God is, not what God is.

    You have an idea that “the nature of God…is way beyond us”. You are fairly dogmatic about that point. You are saying “God IS such that nothing can be known about God’s true nature”. That in itself is a statement about the very nature of God. About who and what God IS.

    I contend that in fact you have a very clear belief about the essential nature of God – but that “Father” doesn’t enter this picture.

    I contend that the nature of God cannot be contained in the highly human, highly cultural, highly personal description ‘father’.

    Let me take just one example: I would expect that you are a mono-theist. Why? How do you know? Or is God not so far “beyond us” that we are unable (by reason alone) to perceive that God must, of necessity, be ONE?

    We speak of God as ‘one’ because we understand the world, in part, by numbers. God — as in God’s essence — is neither one nor many. To understand God as ‘one’ has value at the 1st and 2nd level, but God is not subject to our notions of quantity in essence.

    But then something which reason does not teach (but which we as Christians profess to “know”) is that God is TRIUNE. Get that: Three in One. How do we “know” this? If we respond that it is because we “know” by reason that there must be “multiplicity” in God’s “unity”, then why do we stop at three? In fact, our Muslim friends ask us why we think God should be specifically THREE in One: Not four in one, or Two in One or 5000 in One.

    There is only one reason why Christians believe in a God who is by nature Triune: because that is the way in which God has been revealed to us by Jesus Christ.

    On the third level? Or as a way — an undoubtedly important way … the best way — of us language-bound beings relating to that which is not contained by language?

    But leaving that aside, even the concept of trinity is nothing like the cultural, experiential construct that ‘father’ is. You come to a deeper and deeper understanding of trinity through effort and from sources seeking to be consistent (the church). ‘Father’ is a concept we understand through our experience and is different to different people in different circumstances and different times. If you say God is father, you have to explain what you mean by father. In other words you have to go deeper, use different words. You may have to drill down to another layer and another. The closer you get to words that convey what you really are trying evoke by ‘father’ you get closer to that third level. However, you won’t get there because language doesn’t cut it.

    Or perhaps the Doctrine of the Trinity just “metaphor”? “Metaphor” for what? For something to act as a “metaphor” there has to exist something else to which it is analogous: ie. there must be other things that are “triune”. But there isn’t. The Christian Church had to invent a word for this.

    Exactly! It, in essence, has authority over the word to keep the understanding as ‘pure’ as possible. Nothing like ‘father’!

    My point is that the Christian confession of God as Father (or as Son or as Holy Spirit) rests squarely on exactly the same bases that our faith in the Triunity of God rests: Revalation through Jesus Christ.

    Constrained by language. Constrained by, by way of another example, his own culture’s understanding of the cosmos or his culture’s understanding of human procreativity. What word could he come up with in the context that describes ‘unbounding love’, ‘came before me’, ‘created me’, ‘knows my heart’, ‘loves me unconditionally’, ‘shares my joy and sorrow’, ‘is intimate with me, ‘constantly forgives me’ …? There is no word! But, hey, ‘daddy’ (Abba) spoken as a loving son to a loving father, will have to do. But don’t turn it into an idol because it’s not IT.

    I believe there is a Buddhist saying that “If you meet the Buddha on the road, slay him!”

    And of Christ himself we are told that he is the “Image of the Invisible God”. Unless you take THIS as metaphor too, that must mean that what is “way beyond us” in God – ie. Invisible – has been made visible to us in Christ. Ie. in Christ, The-Way-Beyond-God has drawn near to us. He has, in fact, become the God-With-Us.

    Of course it is metaphor! It has to be. If something has an image it is, by it’s nature, not invisible. It doesn’t make any sense any other way unless you redefine ‘image’ to include things you can’t see, or you redefine ‘invisible’ to include things you can see.

    My whole beef is that too many Christians are operating with a view of God which is based more on Platonic or Aristotelian philosophy than on the direct experience of God which we have known through Jesus Christ the Eternal Logos of the Father.

    When we allow culturally determined philosophical dogmas about God’s essence (such as “God is way beyond us”) to limit our openness to who God may or may not be, rather than callibrate our images of God according to the One True Image (the Human-God-
    With-Us of the Crib and the Cross), we bind ourselves to an idolatry no less false (despite its gloss of sophistication) than the worship of Baal and Moloch.

    I think God as ‘father’ is much more culturally determined and much more limiting. Ironically, when I say that God is ‘way beyond us’ I don’t mean that as a constraint, but as a way of being truly open to a God we cannot contain with specific and cultural constructions like ‘father’.

    But again, what of the person who understands ‘father’ as a negative? Surely this illustrates how limiting such a term is?

  21. Past Elder

    Our Lord Jesus Christ was quoting a very traditional Jewish prayer not that hard to find in my siddur when he said this is how you are to pray: Our Father …

    Unfortunately for rabbi-rabbi’s analysis, the passages after which he said OK you guys but in order to get this you need to get some stuff straight, like I’m stepping outside of the very tradition I’m quoting and which leads to me.

    Avinu Malkeinu indeed is not one of the “Seven Names of God”, nor is it the main one of the couple dozen or so other names of God than the Seven.

    “Father” being a term that conveys literal information about God only becomes an issue when someone takes himself for a, or the, literal “son” of God. And that is what distinguishes Christianity from Judaism. Nowhere, any place at any time is the Messiah considered to be divine in Jewish messianism. And that is the central reason behind Jewish “unbelief” in Jesus as the Messiah — not that he doesn’t fit the prophecies, but the prophecies do not at all prophecy anything like the Christian understanding of Messiah. Forgiveness of sin is already available, and to all man — Book of Jonah, for starters. Messiah is a man, a “son of God” as are many whose lives are characterised by the presence and sense of God, who brings about an event here and now. Messiah as a divine sacrifice for sin whose believers gain eternal life by this belief is a Gentile misunderstanding, replacing the Jewish one when that one was not at all fulfilled in Jesus but they need a reason to keep on thinking this is Messiah. So “Father” becomes literal Father secondary to the belief that this “son” was literal son. That’s the revolution.

    Which is why historical-critical “Christian” “scholars” operate from the first and second sense rabbi-rabbi identifies only. There is only one difference between his rap and what was taught to me in my Catholic university classes, which is, he identifies in Christian Scripture as something new what Christian similar scholars see as a continuation of what he calls the first and second sense in a Christian version, which is inderstandable given the difference in understanding of Messiah to begin with.

    I do see the value you find in this as underpinning what Father is truly Father therefore Son is truly son and priests are male, however. But as with all things resting upon historical critical methodology, it is a slippery slope now, and when the next rage in scholarship comes along, irrelevant.

  22. Louise

    But again, what of the person who understands ‘father’ as a negative? Surely this illustrates how limiting such a term is?

    I don’t recall Jesus saying anything of the sort. That’s not to deny that someone who has been abused by their father, or never had a father, isn’t going to have difficulties in thinking of God as “father” at least initially.

    I would have thought, though, that God Himself is the standard for Fatherhood, not vice versa. IOW it should be possible to say, “Well, human fathers are flawed, but God the Father is not.”

    PE pointed out that the Fatherhood of God is important because of teh Son:

    “Father” being a term that conveys literal information about God only becomes an issue when someone takes himself for a, or the, literal “son” of God. And that is what distinguishes Christianity from Judaism.

    Or as the catechism says, “no one is father as God is Father.”

    God’s Fatherhood, while it doesn’t necessarily contain all of God Himself, is still very important. It is no accident that the diminishment of fatherhood in society has come about with a corresponding diminishment of God’s Fatherhood in a lot of theology.

  23. Tony

    Louise,

    I don’t recall Jesus saying anything of the sort.

    You’ve lost me there.

    That’s not to deny that someone who has been abused by their father, or never had a father, isn’t going to have difficulties in thinking of God as “father” at least initially.

    Initially? His/her concept/understanding of ‘father’ is as deeply ingrained as just about anything can be! You may attempt to replace the negatives with positives but surely it is those positives that become the more useful terms in describing God? Beyond that, why should she/he have to make the effort of reorienting their understanding of ‘father’. Can a person have a full … taken as read that no one has a complete … understanding of God without being able to accept God as ‘father’. Is that what the third level implies?

    I would have thought, though, that God Himself is the standard for Fatherhood, not vice versa. IOW it should be possible to say, “Well, human fathers are flawed, but God the Father is not.”

    Exactly! That’s why it’s so problematic to make the term ‘father’ as describing the essence of God. Hey, it works for me! I have a good Father and I try to be a good son. But if I come across someone who’s had a bastard of a father or an absent father, I suspect it’s a waste of time trying to explain ‘God the father’ to them when we can find other ways to approach how we understand God.

    God’s Fatherhood, while it doesn’t necessarily contain all of God Himself, is still very important.

    I’m fine with it being important. I have a problem with it being essence though.

    It is no accident that the diminishment of fatherhood in society has come about with a corresponding diminishment of God’s Fatherhood in a lot of theology.

    That’s a whole other can of beans!

  24. Schütz

    Louise: Now, as it happens, I can’t see why God isn’t also our Mother, given that both male and female are made in God’s image. Yet God’s Fatherhood has greater importance for some reason, because that is what Jesus taught us to call Him.

    The crucial point is that God is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The reason he isn’t “Mother” is because Jesus already has one of those. Her name is Mary, and she isn’t God, she is human.

    I have argued elsewhere that there is a fundamental correlation between God and Fatherhood and Humanity and Motherhood. Compare the Bride-Bridegroom metaphor (and it IS a metaphor – that is, level One) in the bible. God is always the Bridegroom and we humans (Israel/Church/Mary) are always the Bride.

  25. Schütz

    Tony: Of course it is metaphor! It has to be. If something has an image it is, by it’s nature, not invisible. It doesn’t make any sense any other way unless you redefine ‘image’ to include things you can’t see, or you redefine ‘invisible’ to include things you can see.

    Deary me, Tony, you have just defined the Incarnation into complete nothingness. Join the queue with Fr Dresser, my dear chap, because in saying that the invisible by definition cannot become visible, you are walking exactly the same path that leads to saying God cannot become man.

    BUT GOD DID BECOME MAN. AND THE INVISIBLE DID BECOME VISIBLE.

    That, my dear chap, is the wondrous mystery we are about to celebrate at Christmas.

    You, on the other hand, may well be celebrating a metaphor for your philosophical construct.

    Not me. I’m celebrating the baby.

  26. Schütz

    Tony: when I say that God is ‘way beyond us’ I don’t mean that as a constraint, but as a way of being truly open to a God we cannot contain with specific and cultural constructions like ‘father’.

    Thank God, then for his mercies. Because while we constrain him to infinity, he is merciful to us poor finite Creatures and breaks all the boundaries of his infititude by encompassing himself within the womb of a maiden.

  27. Schütz

    PE: “So “Father” becomes literal Father secondary to the belief that this “son” was literal son. That’s the revolution.”

    That’s it in a nutshell. That’s what I’m on about here. And that’s how I read Rabbi Rabbi-Rabbi (as you so endearingly call him).

  28. Past Elder

    Tell me he’s Orthodox, a real rabbi, and I will stop that.

    I know that’s what you’re on about. I’m saying this “third sense” does not exist for Christian scholars of this type, and that because the latter see the claims to literal sonship as first and second sense phenomena, not different in kind, just application, not said by the historical Jesus but early first and second sense statements about him which later believers came to understand literally. As a Jewish believer, where pretty much the entire Christian concept of Messiah is foreign anyway, since that already forms a redical disconnect a Jewish scholar would be less inclined to see them as first and second sense and instead posit a third sense where his Christian counterparts only see more of the same.

  29. Tony

    You do patronising so well David, but you seem to be avoiding the person for whom ‘father’ means ‘absent’ or ‘fear’ or ‘anger’ or ‘violence’. Do they just have to ‘suck it up’ and live with ‘father’ describing something essential about God?

    Say I’m am one of those people. Convince me that God is ‘father’.

  30. Schütz

    Patronising, Tony? I’m just trying to point out the bleedin’ obvious. In case you don’t get what I’m getting at perhaps PE’s comment may be of help in clarifying the matter (I never dreamed I would say those words…):

    “I’m saying this “third sense” does not exist for Christian scholars of this type, and that because the latter see the claims to literal sonship as first and second sense phenomena, not different in kind, just application, not said by the historical Jesus but early first and second sense statements about him which later believers came to understand literally.”

    That just about sums up where you are at. As long as you persist in denying the validity of Goshen-Gottstein’s “third sense”, and see it only as a different “application” of the first and second senses, then you will not understand this discussion. You will, in fact, have an “image” of God which radically departs from orthodox Christian teaching.

    Let’s take the case you suggest of someone for whom “‘father’ means ‘absent’ or ‘fear’ or ‘anger’ or ‘violence’.”

    If this is so, there is a man in their lives who gave them this meaning of “father”. That man would be their father. Nothing they do or do not do will change the fact that that man, the one who hurt them, is their father. They can refuse to call him that, but that does not mean he isn’t that.

    Now, just because this person had a bad relationship with their own father, does that mean that they can deny the existence of fathers? Does that mean that they cannot recognise fatherhood in anyone at all ever? Or is it not possible for them to recognise good fatherhood when they see it – for instance in their own partner and father of their own children, in the fathers of their friends, or in their male friends’ parenting? Of course not.

    Their issue is not with fatherhood. They can recognise and know true fatherhood when they see it. Their issue is with the man whom they called “My Father”.

    The fact is that for such a person, this threefold schema of “metaphor”, “relation” and “metaphysics” could actually be helpful. While it acknowledges that God is in a real dogmatic metaphysical ontological sense “the Father” (something which I do not need to convince you – it is the teaching of the Church based on the revelation of Jesus), it also recognises other levels at which the individual Christian has freedom to use or not use the designatio “Father” for God. Other metaphors for God are permissable. Other spiritualities in which God is related to as “mother” or “ground of my being” or whatever are available. No law against this.

    So, do they “just have to ‘suck it up’ and live with ‘father’ describing something essential about God? The answer is yes in terms of public doctrine and liturgy, but they are free to find other metaphors and relational terms that mean more to them personally. They just cannot deny the teaching of the Church on God the Father.

    But a reminder: “Father” is not a “description” of God (just as it does not “reflect” God) but a NAME for God. Is “Tony” a description of you? No. It’s your name. What if I have had a bad experience of other Tony’s? Well, I just have to ‘suck it up’ and live with ‘Tony’ being your name. I can’t change it on my whim – but if it helps me, I can call you ‘Bob’ in my mind (because I once had a very close and loving relationship with a guy called ‘Bob’). But if I write letters to you addressed to ‘Bob’ or talk to other people about ‘Bob’ they won’t know that I am talking about or writing to you.

    P.S. the Bob bit was a made up example. I hope you picked that.

  31. Tony

    Given that you can’t seem to see when you’re being patronising, I’ll stay focussed on content.

    … As long as you persist in denying the validity of Goshen-Gottstein’s “third sense” …

    Please show me where I’ve denied the ‘third sense’. My beef is not with the ‘third sense’ it’s with applying ‘Father’ as the third sense.

    Now, just because this person had a bad relationship with their own father, does that mean that they can deny the existence of fathers? Does that mean that they cannot recognise fatherhood in anyone at all ever?

    Yes! They recognise it without doubt in their own father. Given the fact that their father was bad/absent, is that an aspect of God you want them to consider essential? Of course not! You have to somehow reframe the label. You have to say something like, ‘OK when we mean God is ‘father’ we don’t mean the ‘father’ you knew, we mean ‘loving’, ‘forgiving’, ‘never absent’, ‘never violent’ …’. You may choose much better words to convey the third level meaning you regard as essential to the nature of God. Either way, ‘father’ has to be qualified and the way you qualify it, assuming you do a good job, is the way you allow that person to connect with something essential about God. So, my point is, why not use those descriptors to convey the meaning? Why use a term that is so dependent of individual experience and cultural constructs?

    Again, I don’t reject ‘father’as a way of understanding aspects of who God is, but I can’t see how it’s suitable for this third level.

    They can recognise and know true fatherhood when they see it. Their issue is with the man whom they called “My Father”.

    So now your talking ‘true fatherhood’!? You slip in a qualifier that illustrates my point. ‘Father’ doesn’t work on it’s own, it needs qualifiers. The better the qualifiers the closer you get to that third level.

    But a reminder: “Father” is not a “description” of God (just as it does not “reflect” God) but a NAME for God. Is “Tony” a description of you? No. It’s your name. What if I have had a bad experience of other Tony’s? Well, I just have to ‘suck it up’ and live with ‘Tony’ being your name. I can’t change it on my whim – but if it helps me, I can call you ‘Bob’ in my mind (because I once had a very close and loving relationship with a guy called ‘Bob’). But if I write letters to you addressed to ‘Bob’ or talk to other people about ‘Bob’ they won’t know that I am talking about or writing to you.

    A given name ‘Tony’ or ‘David’ is quite different from a descriptor like ‘mother’ or ‘father’.

    If someone was describing you and used the description ‘father’, it might be safe for me to assume ‘good father’, but if I wanted to get beyond the superficial I’d really want to know something more about what kind of father you are. The ‘qualifications’, if they’re good enough, get me to the point of knowing your essence. ‘Father’ is, at best, a front door.

  32. Louise

    So, let me get this straight: because some people have problems with their fathers, therefore God is not, in essence, “Father”?

  33. Tony

    So, let me get this straight: because some people have problems with their fathers, therefore God is not, in essence, “Father”?

    I use those examples to illustrate that the term is not worth of that 3rd level of ‘essence’.

    But what of those ‘some people’? What do you say to someone who was abused by their father? What are you trying to convey about the essence of God by using the term?

  34. Past Elder

    For that matter, a person who has a son who did not turn out well might have problems with “Son”, let alone in whom I am well pleased.

    Given names aren’t what they used to be. Knowing your name is Tony, presumably a nickname for Anthony, doesn’t tell me bupkis about you, any more than you knowing my given name is Terry, short for Terence, tells you a bloody thing about me.

    Now. Anthony originally denoted a person of the Antonius family in ancient Rome. Likewise, Terence (Terentius) denoted a person from (or as in the case of the most famous Terence, the African playwright, adopted by) the Terentius gens, or family group, and would be the second, not the first, of his names (Publius being Terence’s first). My original first name, Douglas, literally means “dark water”, and my original family name, Clutterham, means “cluttered home”.

    Point being, names originally did denote something of the person, and came about to specify something of the person, most of which is now either lost or just forgotten about. This was true of the ancient Hebrews too. My son Zachary’s name literally means “God has remembered”. Isaac means “he will laugh”, so named because his father laughed when God told him he’d be a dad though damn near 100. People were also commonly named by where they were from or what they did or who their father was. Butler, Carpenter, Johnson.

    I think we have to recover a sense of that in getting to this name thing. I hardly think calling you Tony tells me you are of the Antonius family, for example. But names were like that in most of human history, and divine names are no different. They convey information about the named, and exist to convey information about the named. Or did.

    So then, what about those to whom “father” conveys information about something bad? Well, if there is only a first and second sense as defined by rabbi-rabbi, yes, you got a problem, because the metaphor isn’t with anything particularly good for you, and you will have to rely on some further descriptors. And that will get you around the problem. But it leaves another, namely, that even when clarified by further descriptors, father remains only metaphor and culture as a way of speaking about God, not something essential to God.

    Enter this third sense rabbi-rabbi proposes. Now we’re in metaphysics! Holy crap. It’s pretty hard to line up physical stuff like abusive fathers (Luther had one, btw) with metaphysics. However, while claims to a literal fatherhood may strike a person who doesn’t believe it anyway as a step from language and culture as a human experience into metaphysics, for those who do believe it, it is not metaphysics at all, it is Truth itself, in this case Truth about God the Father revealed by his Son with us as one of us, and to understand it as a metaphysical statement like any other metaphysical statement thinking that will help is actually to reduce it to less than it is and hinder the whole process. And in fact leaves just the problem you describe.

    Here, however, we are not in some metaphysical third sense, not in metaphysics at all, or more exactly, not just in metaphysics. This metaphysics is Truth, and not just in that we have true statements, but this truth is not untimately a matter of a statement but a person.

    And that person knows like no-one else what you are talking about. That person understands like no-one else what it is to bear an unjust burden from his father, a burden that would lead to his death, and a death in which as it proceeded — and how crucifixion proceeds to death my physician dad often said most people wouldn’t make it more than about halfway through a description of it before throwing up — he would say in agony My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me.

    So as the Son experiences the unjust punishment and abandonment of the Father, this very experience now is part of the experience of the Father who is one with the Son. There is no-one else ever anywhere who can understand the person you describe than the person on the Cross, this Son crying out in an agonising death to his Father.

    And in this same act the Father reveals himself as someone who loves as a father more than the most loving of human fathers, sparing absolutely nothing, not even himself in the person of his Son, so that the curse of sin even in the most despicable and foulest of human experience is not foreign to him and is redeemed by him.

    Thus the person whose background for a good understanding of God as Father just isn’t there on the basis of human father as father is directly addressed by this person on the Cross, because it’s one of you up there. And if anybody needs some further desrciptors, it’s those whose human experience might allow linguistic and cultural metaphor to pass more easily, because they can understand from someone like you more deeply just what a loving father really is whose lack of one on the human side is his greatest liability on the human side and his greatest asset on the divine side in knowing what a shattering and healing revelation this really is for us all regardless of our human fathers and first, second or third sense talk thereof.

  35. Tony

    Perhaps I could cut to the chase even more by asking if ‘God the Father’ says something essential about God, does it follow that God is male?

  36. Louise

    But what of those ‘some people’? What do you say to someone who was abused by their father? What are you trying to convey about the essence of God by using the term?

    For heaven’s sake, Tony! One deals with people as and where we find them. I happen to know someone who was repeatedly raped by her father as a child and I am hardly going to shove concept of God the Father in her face all the time, now am I?

    What is it with Catholics at The Tablet end of the spectrum, do you think you’re the only people with compassion? You tell David he’s patronising, but you do a pretty good job of it yourself.

  37. Louise

    if ‘God the Father’ says something essential about God, does it follow that God is male?

    No. Although Jesus was and He is God so make of that what you will.

  38. Louise

    Thus the person whose background for a good understanding of God as Father just isn’t there on the basis of human father as father is directly addressed by this person on the Cross, because it’s one of you up there.

    Beautiful, PE, quite right. This was the very point my beloved husband made to a poor friend of ours who had been ritually gang- raped as a child. She said the observation helped her.

  39. Tony

    ‘No’ Louise?

    Every definition of ‘father’ I’ve ever seen and every context in which it is used in general discourse, assumes that ‘father’ is ‘male’.

    Again, I use this as another example of how limiting the term ‘father’ is.

    If ‘father’ is essential to God and ‘male’ is essential to ‘father’ it follows that the church is either operating by a yet-to-be-explained definition of ‘father’ that excludes gender or ‘maleness’ is essential to God.

    The only other alternative I can think of is that ‘father’ is metaphorical.

  40. Louise

    I’m not a theologian, and I haven’t hammered all this out yet for myself. I don’t think I’ve said that God’s motherhood is not essential, if that makes a difference. I will say that it might be essential (as in God’s essence) but I don’t think it’s good for people to worship God exclusively in this aspect, because of the serious temptation to nature worship, which is almost always what happens when people overlook His Fatherhood.

    Also, while we can’t really say that a human being is both mother and father (except perhaps figuratively), we can say that about God because of His infinite and transcendent nature. I don’t think anyone denies it’s possible for God to be male and female. I suppose it’s possible, therefore, for God to be Father without being exclusively male.

  41. Tony

    Louise,

    I think David’s original blog makes it pretty clear that ‘motherhood’ doesn’t work on the third level. I’m open to correction on that.

    I’m interested that you see a potential for imbalance by just concentrating on the notion of God as Mother. I’d suggest the same is true of God the Father.

    I don’t think it’s ‘possible’ for God to be male and female. God has no need for gender given that he wasn’t born, doesn’t need to procreate and won’t die.

  42. Past Elder

    God in and of “himself” exists completely outside the accidents of nature, meaning not the I’m sorry moments but outside those things characteristic of nature but not of their essence (substance). So God, per se, is not male, not female, not father, not mother.

    We do not exist outside the accidents of nature. We are male or female, mothers or fathers. On top of which, we did not just happen to be that way or get that way, we were created that way by the God of whom we try to speak.

    The whole religious history of Man is a search for God, something higher than and beyond himself. Das Heilige, the holy, an experience of something outside oneself that is also outside the bounds of our capacity for thought. Hence both our recourse to speaking of the holy with terms from within our capacity for thought, and to taking action toward the holy based on human interaction — if you want something from someone be nice to them, take their side and give them gifts etc, poof enter religion with its rules, reasons and rites, all of which of course have to be expressed with human language.

    Does the story end there? Is religion a catalogue of the records of first and second sense phenomena around the world and across time, one in a while jumping into this metaphysical realm? Or did, in the midst of all this seeking the holy, did the holy seek us? If so, the holy “knows” this will happen within a framework foreign to “him” but natural to us. To bridge this gap, “he” who is outside of time enters time where we are, prepares us over quite some period for something we cannot grasp, choosing times and places, which means with their cultures and languages, to unfold this to us.

    If Christianity (for that matter, if Judaism) is true, then the languages and cultures involved are not, so to speak, accidents which we must work through to get at the essence, but things deliberately chosen by God for the exposition of what he reveals.

    Even a human teacher does this: you don’t present to a freshman class as you do to a graduate seminar. One can study a revealed religion alongside other religions, including others which claim to be revealed, according to human modes of thought, but if, and it’s a huge if, a particular religion is indeed revealed by God, then we are in an entirely different situation.

    So re our discussion here, God who is neither male nor female reveals himself to creatures created male and female. Those creatures cannot understand a higher being who is neither male nor female except to say what it is not, that it is neither male nor female. (In case you get invited to a theological cocktail party and need to impress someone, that’s called remotion.) Those creatures are about to interact with a being outside their frame of reference, so both the being and the interaction though beyond their frame of reference will necessarily be expressed by them within their frame of reference. In Christianity, God who is neither male nor female is Father, not Mother, and not Parent, to us, and “he” who within the one God is eternally generated (itself and expression within our frame of reference for something wholly outside it; if you’re generated you ain’t eternal humanly speaking) speaking) is Son, not Daughter or Child, to us.

    So then is God not really Father or male, just to us? No. Because, and back to the If again, if God has revealed “himself” to us in this chosen way, Father conveys something essential about him as we may know him at all, Mother or Parent does not, Son reveals something essential about his coming among us, Daughter or Child does not. One stakes everything on whether the If is true, or not.

    If not, then we may well speak of first, second and third senses and all the rest. If so, then we are in that different realm. And there, one finds it goes even further. Where is someone a father without a mother? And God the Father works with a Mother, which is the church, the mother, not the father, of all believers, which is also the Bride, not the Groom, of his Son. And again, not just as for us, but essential for us understanding from within our human frame of reference what is being revealed from without it.

  43. Tony

    In terms of ‘God the Father’ expressing something essential bout God, your argument seems to be in two parts. Firstly you background us with issues of the inadequacy of our language and the constraints of human experience. So:

    Those creatures are about to interact with a being outside their frame of reference, so both the being and the interaction though beyond their frame of reference will necessarily be expressed by them within their frame of reference.

    What the ‘third level’ seems to be saying is that the other two levels are thus constrained, but the third level describes what is.

    You seem to then go on to simply re-state the case:

    In Christianity, God who is neither male nor female is Father, not Mother, and not Parent, to us …

    You are talking square circles here. This is not the language of ‘what is’ it’s the language of the poet or the mystic.

    and

    Father conveys something essential about him as we may know him at all, Mother or Parent does not, Son reveals something essential about his coming among us, Daughter or Child does not.

    So this is close as it seems to get to saying why God is ‘father’ but even then there is no justification beyond ‘well that’s the way it is’.

    What is it that is essention about the notion of ‘father’ that distinguishes it from other descriptions, particularly ‘mother’?

    Rabbi-rabbi seems to suggest two reasons drawn from the CC:

    “Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father by his relationship to his only Son who, reciprocally, is Son only in relation to his Father: “No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him”

    So, the essentially element of paternity, the one that takes ‘father’ to the next level? Being creator Huh? Mothers are creators too aren’t they?

    The second reason? He is ‘father’ to all of us because he is ‘eternally Father by his relationship to his only Son’. Do we get some sort of hint that Jesus wanted us to regard God as ‘father’ in this essential way? Or is Jesus as man, written about using language, constrained as we are?

    Why isn’t it reasonable to assume that this notion of ‘father’ being on the third level is as much about ‘cultural conditioning’ as any other term?

    Again, what essential element of paternity, makes it necessary to belive that ‘father’ is something more than ‘mother’?

  44. Past Elder

    It’s quite reasonable to assume this notion of father is as much about cultural conditioning as any other term. And, on that basis, some speak of Creator instead of Father OR Mother, Redeemer istead of Son, and Sanctifier instead of Holy Ghost (more recently rehabilitated to Holy Spirit). Some would see that as a step beyond father or mother gods and godesses, heroes so great their father, mother, or both were divine and/or the circumstances of their birth unusual, etc. Religion and mythology are full of such figures. One can 1) reject them all as historically interesting but irrelevant with the progress of knowledge 2) accept them all as equally valid, to be chosen on the basis of past background or present choice, but not that one is “truer” than the others or true, period, or 3) accept one as true, with or without accepting the others as historically or culturally interesting and/or hinting at what is fully present in the one that is true.

    Rabbi-rabbi seems to want a middle ground between Two and Three. Or to put it differently, a way to account for the uniqueness of something in Three other than say it is true, end of story. Enter phenomenology.

    The problem with statements like “Everything is culturally conditioned” is, how does one step out of, everything being culturally conditioned, one’s own and any other culture to determine that? Might not “Everything is culturally conditioned” itself be a culturally conditioned statement?

    Likewise any absolute. There are no absolutes. But, that itself is an absolute, which, if there are no absolutes, we cannot know. Enter nominalism, better known these days as deconstructionism, which, shaken with a little phenomenology and historical critical methodology, gives us liberal religion, with or without previous historical trappings such as vestments, rites, scriptures, etc, serve to suit taste.

    No, God is not Father in being Creator. Creator happens right in Beresith, more widely known by its Greek Jewish name in the Spetuagint, Genesis. All of the things we typically anthropomorphically worship are indentified as creations of a creative force, not that force (god) itself. The plagues, as any decent rabbi can outline for you, one by one display things deified in Egypt as subject TO the deity. Und so weiter, yikes, and so on.

    But in Christianity — and rabbi-rabbi seems aware of this — there is another step. This creative force is not simply parental, it is paternal, which is not distinguished apart from the Son who proceeds from It whom the Son identifies as He, Father, who in time sent his Son that we might too call Abba, Father, and as the Son was born of woman His mother we are born of the Church our mother. The Father has the seed, the Mother has the womb, the believer as with human parents comes to know Da-da from Ma-ma.

    Perhaps the difficulty is not so much in Father, but in Mother. Perhaps the difficulty is cultural conditioning from our contemporary secular culture, which sees equality of value as interchangeability of function, the female not being equal until she can hunt and gather and fend off enemies with the male, not to mention have sex with no thought to carrying a child in the womb as a result.

    Yes, when he pitched his tent among us, he entered our constraints. However, he did not just choose to pitch his tent among us, he chose and prepared which tents. He chose which culture by which to be constrained, so to speak. Which makes them not something to be swept aside to get at the “real” meaning, but something essential to his choice to come among us at all.

  45. Louise

    I’m interested that you see a potential for imbalance by just concentrating on the notion of God as Mother. I’d suggest the same is true of God the Father.

    Well, I guess if it’s at the expense of God the Son and God the holy Spirit, then I think I’d agree. God is The Holy Trinity, after all.

    I don’t know about your remark here, really: we say we believe in one God the Father the Almighty… not mother. That seems to be important.