Should We Pray to God Our Heavenly Father?
Years ago I visited with a popular writer and speaker whom I knew from his regular appearances at large youth ministry conferences. “We teach our kids to pray to the Mommy/Daddy God,” he told me. “We don’t want them to think of God with a gender,” he explained. I was reminded of that conversation earlier this week while reading the Wall Street Journal article “Must God Have a Gender in Our Prayers” by Francis X. Rocca.
The article surveys both sides of the issue among those who answer the question of God and gender in the affirmative and negative. Some feminist theologians see gendered language as patriarchal and bounded by bias. Similar concerns have been raised in regard to gendered language for God’s children, whereas older translations use terms like “sons of God,” many newer ones uses “sons and daughters of God.” What are we to think. Here’s three quick responses.
First, God doesn’t have a gender in the way we normally think of gender. The Old Testament makes clear that God is spirit. Any references to body parts of God, like God walking (implying legs), God’s ears, eyes, or hands, are anthropomorphic. The biblical authors are using language to describe God which humans can understand.
Second, both men and women are created in the image of God. “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them,” Genesis 1:27 reads. There is no superior sex as both men and women reflect the image of God.
Finally, we don’t get to recreate God. While God doesn’t have a body, speaking of God the Father that is, we still can’t ignore the clear teaching of the Bible, or, in this case, the very teaching of Jesus about how to pray to God. “Our Father who art in heaven,” Jesus prayed in teaching us how to approach God. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Christians believe God himself has told us how to speak of him.”
So, should we change the gender language in the Bible? As it relates to humanity, I’m completely fine with translations that use language that make clear both men and women can be “sons and daughters of God.” But as it relates to God the Father, we should pray to him exactly as Jesus taught us. While he doesn’t have a physical body and a gender in that sense, he is indeed our father. He’s our perfect father. That’s something to take comfort in, not to try to expel.