A complementarian asked me recently:
Just out of curiosity, do you think there is any significance in the fact that God is called a Father, or that Jesus was a man, or that his disciples were men? Or are these just incidental, the reflections of an outdated patriarchical (sic) culture? It’s a little off-topic from our present convo but it might be relevant or at least worth considering. I’ve known people who have a really hard time using the word “Father” to describe God or thinking of God as having any sort of gender. I think those people have sadly been influenced by radical feminist ideology…
The implication, of course, is that by not agreeing with him on a certain topic related to gender issues (we were talking about gender accuracy/ neutrality in Bible translations), I do not understand the significance of God’s alleged maleness.
Perhaps the best way to answer is with a counter-question:
Do you find it significant that God describe himself as carrying in God’s womb, giving birth and most likely nursing at his breast, but never as doing anything biologically male, or having male body parts?
(For evidence of the allegations above, the Bible speaks of God as (a) a woman in labour (Isa. 42:14); (b) a mother who births Israel (Isa. 46:3-4).; (c) a mother who gave birth to the Israelites (Dt. 32:18); and (d) El Shaddai may refer to the Hebrew word for breasts (“shadiam”). In this case, it would imply that God nourishes, supplies and satisfies.)
My answer is that I find both these points significant. and mention both when teaching about God.
Pictures convey more of a message than words. We remember much more of what we see than what we hear. And where “God the Father” is a word that is never explained by images whereby the person biologically needs to be male, the same cannot be said about the female pictures of God:
Several pictures have God with a womb, and giving birth. The Bible may also use a name for God that imply him suckling. (El Shaddai) These are things that literally can only be done by a woman. Clearly, God intended us to sometimes think of him in unmistakably and unalterably female terms.
What does all this mean? I will speculate in future posts. The important thing, though, is that we should not stare ourselves so blind on the “Father” word that we forget the biologically female pictures, or vice versa. We cannot ask only one of these two questions, or pretend that only one of them have significance.
We have to study the significance of both, preferably simultaneously so our picture does not get skewed.