After reading the syllabus for my 1 Corinthians class including a section on the need to use inclusive language for humanity and non-gendered language for God as much as we are able, a student wrote asking if Jesus’ use of “father” to refer to God was problematic in this respect.
Whenever we talk about God, our human language is insufficient. We always are driven to use metaphors and images to speak of God. (Think of “God is king.” Is God a king? Well, yes and no, right? Like a king in some ways but unlike all human kings in others.)
Jesus, operating as fully human and speaking with human language, also faced this. Obviously, God was not his literal father in the same way that humans are fathers–Jesus as co-eternal and co-equal with God was not generated by God, and certainly not in the sense of physical creating physical. “Father” is in that sense a title or major metaphor indicating God’s relationship to Jesus and us. (So we pray, “Our father…” not because we were begotten like Jesus, but because God has taken us into the household/kingdom like children and heirs through faith).
We see similar issues regarding metaphor when God speaks through the prophets to Israel, and God calls Israel God’s child and God is the mother that nursed her, or Israel is God’s wife and God the bridegroom. Obviously, those are not literal, and if we don’t take God’s own words describing God’s self literally (nursing mother, bridegroom), I see no strong reason to take Jesus’ words in that way.