Fathers’ Day is not celebrated in the Church in the same way that Mothers’ Day is because it does not have its roots in a church tradition (Mothering Sunday). Arguably, however, more attention is given by the Church to fatherhood because ‘Father’ is a frequently used title for God. Indeed, the most commonly recited prayer begins ‘Our Father…’
As we have become increasingly aware of absent or abusive fathers (and mothers), we have sought either to explain the fatherhood of God in terms of being the perfect Father/Parent or to adopt other descriptors: Loving God; Eternal God, the list goes on. Other factors have also fuelled the debate: the challenge of the patriarchy of the church, and more recent discussions around the issues of gender. Some are dismissive of these factors informing ‘traditional Christian thinking’. Yet God is neither male nor female. Jesus himself said:
‘God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ (John 4:24)
The complication comes in the personhood of God, for it would be unthinkable to call God ‘it’, which then only leaves the he, she pronouns. Some seek to avoid using such pronouns altogether, using the word God all the time. Others do talk in terms of she and her for God, but this is often dismissed as ‘political correctness gone mad’! Unlike some other languages, English isn’t gendered. In Hebrew the word for ‘spirit’ was a feminine word and increasingly people are adopting the female terms she and her when speaking of the Holy Spirit as a means of bringing some balance to the personal descriptors used for God. Wisdom is personified as female in the Bible (‘Sophia’) and some see this depiction as an Old Testament description of what came to be identified as the Holy Spirit in the New Testament, hence the female pronouns for the Holy Spirit.
The bottom line is that we need to use God language that is helpful to ourselves and others, but we must never forget that God is so much more than we can ever describe in any event. For some, God is the perfect Father or Parent; for some, God is pure Love. Again, the list goes on.