The most common prayer said by Christians is probably the Our Father, also called the Lord's Prayer. A form of the prayer is found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke.
The identification of God as Father is also found in many other texts in the Bible. As I have reflected on fatherhood in the month of June, when we celebrate Father's Day, there are challenges and difficulties identifying God as Father.
Common sense tells us that God can't literally be a father. A father is a male human being. God is obviously not restricted to being a male father. God is the Creator of all that exists, transcending the label as a human father.
Yet a slippery slope has occurred since ancient times that has resulted in seeing God more literally than metaphorically as a Father. The most common depiction of God is an older white man with a grey head of hair and grey beard. This is not surprising since we know historically that the Jewish religion and culture from which Christianity evolved was patriarchal.
Today in the United States, we consider our country to be based on a democratic rather than a patriarchal system of power. Yet we still see remnants of the patriarchal past of our Christian religion. All we need to do is look at the fact that in more than 200 years of existence our nation still has not elected a woman as president of the United States. On the other hand, there are now more female members of congress than ever in the history of our country. Progress is being made.
It's a challenge to continue the traditions of our Christian religion while at the same time shedding a patriarchal system. If we fail to do so, we will continue to see a decline in our Christian religion.
Another difficulty with viewing God as Father is the fact that a significant portion of the population has had very negative experiences of their biological father, even traumatic at times in the case of abuse or neglect.
Certainly many of us have had a wonderful, beautiful experience of our fathers. More likely, however, is that we had a mixture of good and bad experiences with our dads.
So what shall we do with this image of God as Father that is a persistent fixture in the history and Bible of our Christian religion?
First, we may need to emphasis more frequently that God as a Father is a metaphor for God, not a literal reality. Second, we can more regularly highlight the many additional metaphors of God that are in the Bible.
For example, one of my favorite metaphors for God is as a potter. God is the potter and we are the clay, according to Isaiah 64:8.
What about God as a rock? This metaphor is found in many places in the Bible, such as Psalm 18:2. Or what about God as a sun in Psalm 84:11?
Images of God using metaphors from nature are just as ancient as father. The bottom line is that there are a multitude of metaphors to describe the Creator of the universe. Whether Father, Mother, Friend, Rock, Sun, or Potter, what is most important is knowing that God is Love (1 John 4:8).