I have only ever had a good father. Timothy Beaty is gentle, wise, affectionate, and regularly expresses pride for his children. We laugh at the same lines in Seinfeld; he taught me how to identify bird calls. To this day, I hold to the irrational belief that there is no better man than him walking the face of the earth.
Because I have a good biological father, it has been easy to believe that I have a good heavenly Father. Earthly things, though imperfect, reveal the deeper truth about heavenly things. The typology has worked out for me. I do not take this for granted.
For many, the word “father” only brings up painful memories or simply a blank face where a familiar one should be. I think of a friend whose dad left when she was 10. He calls her every couple years but is not present in her life. Another friend’s father is kind enough but checked out, abusing drugs and alcohol. The sins of the fathers so often create a spiritual hurdle to believing in a good Father.
The reality of painful father relationships is not to be written off casually. Nor is the broader argument that Christianity historically has over-identified God with masculinity and marginalized women’s voices. These are some of the reasons that theologians and lay leaders of the past century have upheld feminine language for God, calling God “she” or avoiding gendered language for God altogether.
I’m very sympathetic to these arguments. But I’m also not ready to stop calling God “Father.”
One of the most popular reimaginings of God as feminine is found in The Shack, William Paul Young’s best-selling 2007 novel. Young casts God the Father as a woman named Papa. The protagonist grew up with an abusive ...1
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