Why “Father” is not a Metaphor
One line in Andrew’s review is revealing: “I’ve seen Father too much as a metaphor, and too much in connection with his relationship to me; that he has eternally been the Father of the Son has formed an embarrassingly small part of my theology.”
Andrew is not the only one. In an otherwise helpful critique of a talk by John Piper, Krish Kandiah reveals the same significant lapse. Krish first quotes Piper:
Piper writes: “God has revealed himself to us in the Bible pervasively as King, not Queen, and as Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son. The Father and the Son created man and woman in his image, and gave them together the name of the man, Adam (Genesis 5:2). God appoints all the priests in Israel to be men. The Son of God comes into the world as a man, not a woman. He chooses twelve men to be his apostles. The apostles tell the churches that all the overseers—the pastor/elders who teach and have authority (1 Timothy 2:12)—should be men; and that in the home, the head who bears special responsibility to lead, protect, and provide should be the husband (Ephesians 5:22–33).”
And then goes on to comment:
John Piper is not claiming here that God is male – that would be to confer sexual identity that is not appropriate for our Triune God. But Piper is underlining the number of times God uses male metaphors to describe himself, suggesting that God uses male metaphors pervasively. Although he does not claim that these male metaphors are used exclusively, he chooses not to mention that God also uses quite a lot of feminine metaphors.
Did you spot the mistake here? When Piper says that God is, “Father, not Mother. The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son,” this is not metaphor. Piper is not saying it is metaphor. Rather, it is who God is. “Father” is the proper name of God, and is no more metaphorical than my name being “Mr Hosier.” Sure, God at times acts in ways that are like a mother (that’s a metaphor), but Father is who he is.
Getting clarity about this has all kinds of vital consequences. As Andrew makes clear, it fundamentally affects our understanding of God, which then affects our worship of God. It also helps us plot a course through the morass of conflicting arguments in the egalitarian-complementarian debate. It means that we don’t fall into the trap of creating opposing lists of male and female metaphors for God in order to try and justify our own theo-cultural positions.
Of course, it also means that many people have to go through a comprehensive re-wiring process in order to be able to see that God being “Father” is a good thing, and not simply a projection of all that is worst about their own, earthly, fathers.
It means entering into the full-orbed joy of Trinitarian worship, where we experience the empowering presence of the Spirit, from the Father, in the Son. Or, as Mike Reeves rather wonderfully expresses it,
How great and lovely, then, is the work of the Spirit! He unites us to the Son so that the Father’s love for the Son also encompasses us; he draws us to share the Father’s own enjoyment of the Son; and he causes us to share the Son’s delight in the Father. What could be more delicious than to keep in step with a Spirit whose purpose is that?