Our Father Who Art In Heaven -- By: Tina J. Ostrander

Journal: Priscilla Papers
Volume: PP 13:1 (Winter 1999)
Article: Our Father Who Art In Heaven
Author: Tina J. Ostrander

Our Father Who Art In Heaven

Tina J. Ostrander

Tina J. Ostrander received an M. A. In Theology from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and currently teaches adult education in the Episcopal Church and computer science at a community college near Seattle, Washington.

The Bible is rich with metaphor. For instance, through the biblical imagery of husband and wife, bride and bridegroom, we come to understand the intimacy, fidelity and love our relationship with God demands.1 The language is symbolic. It is not intended to be taken literally, but rather to convey a spiritual truth in a way that we can understand.

Perhaps the most pervasive metaphor in Scripture (especially the New Testament) is that of God as Father While this too constitutes symbolic language, it is often interpreted literally. In the popular imagination, “God the Father” is not infrequently understood as “God the male,” with stereotypically male traits including initiative, provision, protection, leadership, authority, and discipline. To be sure, all of these characteristics are true of God. Yet surprisingly, scriptural use of “Father” in reference to God has nothing whatsoever to do with “maleness.” Significantly, though the cultural setting of the Bible is “thoroughly patriarchal, one never encounters an explicit appeal to the masculinity of God for any purpose whatever.”2

Recent feminist theology has pointed out the way the metaphor of divine Fatherhood has been misused in order to legitimate abuses against women both inside and outside the Church.

The symbol of the Father God, spawned in the human imagination and sustained as plausible by patriarchy, has in turn rendered service to this type of [patriarchal] society by making its mechanisms for the oppression of women appear right and fitting. If God in “his” heaven is a father ruling “his” people, then it is in the “nature” of things and according to divine plan and the order of the universe that society be male-dominated.3

According to this line of thinking, the use of masculine language and symbolism for God reinforces destructive gender hierarchies. God is interpreted as a male whose full representatives must also be male.4 One way to level the male-dominated power structures of our society is to change the way we talk about God, a process one feminist has called a castration of language.5 In this manner, the Fatherhood of God is rejected altogether.

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