A comment left on Wednesday’s post got me thinking about something that happened in seminary. The language we use to describe our faith is more complicated than I once thought. I always figured there was a name for everything and that was it. Little did I realize that the life experiences of people drastically change how we hear these words, and can radically change the way we view God.
We had to write our papers using inclusive language. Not that I think this is a bad thing, but it makes some things hard. For example, God is not a “he” (nor is God a “she”). God is spirit, and because of this, we were not to use these familiar pronouns to describe God. You may have noticed that on the blog I don’t use “he” when referring to God, it’s because of this rule. In a similar vein, the term father is one that would come up debated from time to time. Typically, the person who wanted to get rid of that term was someone who had a terrible father, or one who abandoned them. Referring to God as “father” only brought up these images and they did not believe that God could be like the father they knew.
I had a great father, for as long as he was around, so that term never bothered me. In my small town church, there were very few cases where fathers weren’t good people and stuck with the family. I never really saw examples of someone who would be uncomfortable viewing God as a father. So when I heard these people calling for a new title, I dismissed them. But as time went on I began to see the value of understanding these terms from other perspectives.
The problem is, we rarely found 100% perfect terms. Sure we use God instead of the pronouns, but then as you write papers on God, it becomes clear that not having pronouns for God make it hard to describe God (see what I did there?). Even describing the first person of God as Creator instead of Father lends itself to bad images of the Creation Museum and fundamentalism. But these are the best we had.
One professor I had claimed, “If you can find an acceptable pronoun for God that everyone can agree on, there is big bucks in that.” I’m still not rich. It’s a hard challenge, and one that I don’t think will ever be resolved.
But do I think that we all need to abandon the terms we’ve always used for culturally sensitive ones? Yes and no. I would agree that being aware of how our words sound to others is important. When talking with friends I know, I let refer to God as “he” and it doesn’t bother us. When I try to sound more professional or when addressing a larger audience, I stick with referring to God as God. I also haven’t addressed God as “Father” for awhile because I realize that God is more than Father. I stick with God once again.
But that’s the topic of another day. More specifically, a post next week. Come back and see the next part of this post on Monday.
What do you think? Does the way we refer to God effect how others understand God? In what ways aside from just the terms “he” and “Father” do we effect those around us with our terminology?