Should we refer to God as Father or Mother?

Faith in God as the “Father” is known in many religions of the world. In Israel, God is called “Father” inasmuch as he is the Creator of the universe. Even more, God is Father because of the covenant and the gift of law to Israel, “his first-born son”. God is also called the Father of the king of Israel. In a very special way, he is “the Father of poor”, of the orphaned and the widowed, who are embraced by his loving care. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “by calling God “Father, the language of faith indicates two main things: that God is the first origin of everything and transcendent authority; and that he is at the same time goodness and loving care for all his children”. God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood that emphasizes God’s intimacy between Creator and creature. However, this experience also teaches us that human parents are fallible and can therefore disfigure the face of the fatherhood and motherhood. While people tend to make distinctions between the sexes, God transcends such distinction. In other words, he is neither man nor woman: he is God.

The Catechism concludes that: “Jesus revealed that God is Father in an unheard of sense: he is Father not only in being Creator; he is eternally Father by his relationship to his only Son who, in turn, is Son only in relation to his Father: No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

The famous painting the “Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt is an excellent portrayal of how both the pateranal and maternal characteristics of God come into play. Hendi Nouven in his commentary on the painting, focuses on God’s hands that alone speak volumes about God’s simultaneous fatherhood and motherhood. I cannot do better than to quote Henri’s own words:

The father’s left hand touching the son’s shoulder is strong and muscular. The fingers are spread out and cover a large part of the prodigal son’s shoulder and back That hand seems not only to touch, but with its strength also to hold. Even though there is a gentleness in the way the father’s left hand touches his son, it is not without a firm grip.

How different is the father’s right hand! This hand does not hold or grasp. It is refined, soft and very tender. The fingers are close to each other and they have an elegant quality. It lies gently upon the son’s shoulder. It wants to caress, to stroke, and to offer consolation and comfort. It is a mother’s hand.

Caressing feminine hand of the father parallels the bare, wounded foot of the son, while the strong masculine hand parallels the foot dressed in a sandal. Is it too much to think that the one hand protects the vulnerable side of the son, while the other hand reinforces the son’s strength and desire to get on with his life?

Both Male and Female are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore God himself perfectly portrays the qualities of both genders. He confirms and consoles. He is indeed, God, in whom both fatherhood and motherhood are fully present. God’s desire to show his paternal love to us is profoundly expressed in the words of His Son Jesus who tells us that “He has come to reveal the Father”. Think about Jesus says, this is why he has come. And we only reveal what has been hidden. So Gods parental love for us, his children, although mentioned in previous generations has not reached a fulfillment in that through Jesus we become truly God children and in return he becomes our Father.