Sunday, June 16, 2013

God as Father: Does this Metaphor Work?

It's Father's Day, and I have parenting, metaphors, and God on the brain.  I come from a religious tradition that emphasizes God as Father more than any other metaphor I've encountered.  I've often found it irritating, even though my own experiences with fathers has been overwhelmingly positive.

I know how lucky I am to have emerged from an intact family, to have a mom and a dad who continue to love each other, and continue to love my sister and me. I grew up in the 1970's and saw plenty of wrecked families. I've always wondered how people who come out of those wrecked families, especially those with absent or abusive fathers, react to the idea of God as a Father.

Even though I have a good relationship with both of my parents, I'm not crazy about the idea of God as Parent of either gender. I think that God as Parent is an infantilizing metaphor. If God is a Dad--or so much more rarely, a Mom--then it follows that we're children, and too often, we see that as a reason for inactivity. But God needs us to be active in the world. I'd go further and say that God is counting on us. I much prefer the idea of God as partner. God can be the Senior partner; I'm cool with that.

Of course, I see the value of viewing God as a loving parent, but I'd love for us to expand our metaphors for God. I'd also love us to take our view of God, and see if it could have impact on our own lives. How might our parenting change, if we used God as the parenting model? How might we change our creative lives, if we used God as model? Maybe we'd be more forgiving, in both instances. Maybe we'd look at all that we create and call it "Good" and "Very Good," as in the first Genesis story, the one that comes before Adam and Eve and the snake.

Or maybe it's time to work a bit harder to make the God as Father metaphor fit our current lives.  Many of the fathers whom I know today are much more involved in the lives of their children than fathers of past generations were.  They change diapers, they cook meals, they're part of the car pool, they coach teams--what if we viewed God as someone who packed our lunch for us?  What if we saw God as soccer coach or the one who taught us to sail or program computers?

Most fathers I know these days seem infinitely patient and even-tempered.  Many religious traditions have not focused on that aspect of God, but have instead seen God as a fiery judge.  But what if we saw God as someone who encourages us to try again, even though we've fallen short?  What if we saw God as an older, wiser presence who tries to help us discover the best way to live our lives?

1 comment:

rbarenblat said...

This is a powerful post and much here resonates with me.

Two of my friends and teachers posted reflections yesterday on the God-the-father metaphor, and although both are written from a Jewish perspective, you might enjoy them too. Here are the links:

God, Our Parent by Rabbi Laura Duhan Kaplan

What Fatherhood Taught Me About God by Rabbi Brad Hirschfield