Last Sunday I preached on Ephesians 3:14-21, an eye-opening passage that gives us a window into Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians (you can listen to the sermon here). There is one really important phrase in the passage that I didn’t have time to look at: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name” (Ephesians 3:14-15).
Here, God is described as Father, and not just that, but as the Father after whom every family is named. He is the True Father. This is worth focusing our attention on, because in recent years there have been many who oppose the practice of speaking and thinking of God as ‘Father’.
I am not presuming to go into this debate in any great detail here, but I do think the issues are worth briefly addressing as we think about what it means that God describes Himself in the Bible as our Father.
As a first objection, there are those who think calling God ‘Father’ is sexist – why not call God ‘Mother’? There is actually quite a lot of debate around this question, but it’s worth pointing out just a few things here. First of all, God transcends gender. Both male and female were created in God’s image (Gen 1:27), so both men and women equally reflect who God is. God is spirit (John 4:24), and He is neither male nor female in the human sense.
Well, if that’s true, why do we only refer to God as Father? Basically, because this is the way that God has chosen to reveal Himself in the Bible. God refers to Himself as ‘Father’ in the Old Testament, and Jesus often refers to God as Father in the New Testament. The apostle Paul also frequently refers to God as ‘Father’, and this passage in Ephesians is a good example of this. We call God our Father because we follow the example of God Himself, just as the apostle Paul did.
And for those who think that such ‘Father language’ is sexist, we must remember that Jesus (and Paul after him) was totally counter-culturally pro-women (see Ephesians 5, Mark 12:40, 1 Timothy 5, and countless other places). Jesus elevated the status of women significantly. So if Jesus and Paul can refer to God as Father without any trace of sexism, why can’t we?
As much as it might pique our Western sensibilities, the argument that calling God ‘Father’ is sexist simply doesn’t hold any weight.
As a second objection, there are those who think calling God ‘Father’ is destructive for those who have strong negative experiences with their human fathers, such as through abuse. It’s claimed that some will be more likely to reject God because of their negative associations with father figures. An example of this is seen in the book The Shack, in which the main character is a grown man who struggles to relate to God as Father because of the horrible abuse that he suffered from his human father. The argument goes that to be sensitive to such people, we should refrain from calling God ‘Father’.
But is this really the best way we can think of to help those who have suffered abuse to relate to God?
Rather than shying away from father language, we can share the good news that for those who have faith in Christ, we have a True Father, one who is never abusive, but who is perfectly loving and caring. We serve a God who can redeem all those negative associations that we might have with father figures. We have a loving Father who heals us and restores us.
God is the Father to the fatherless. All human families are temporary, and have been modelled after the True Family, in which all believers are joined together under our one perfectly loving Father. This is our eternal Family. This is not just a metaphor. These are our true brothers and sisters. Your fellow Christians are those who have been adopted into God’s True Family with you, and are those with whom you will spend eternity in glory with our True Father.
So don’t feel you need to shy away from calling our God ‘Father’. Instead, rejoice that you do have a Father, one who loves you and cares for you deeply. You have a Father who was willing to sacrifice His only son, Jesus, in order that through His death and resurrection, you too might become a child of God. God has brought you into His family at great cost to Himself, because He loves you.
We are loved by our Father (1 John 4:9-11). We are heard by our Father (Matthew 7:7-11). We are cared for by our Father (1 Peter 5:7). We are disciplined by our Father (Hebrews 12:5-11). We are forgiven, accepted, and delighted in by our Father (Luke 15:22-24).
Brothers and sisters, rejoice that you are a child of the True Father.