Roger Olson has posted a needed remind on his blog.
When someone addresses God as simply “God” it’s unclear who or what is being addressed. Another confusion surrounds “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.” These are not personal forms of address and using them has a distancing effect. One reason, I assume, that Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Our Father” is to reinforce that our relationship with God is personal and should be intimate.
The question is always “which god is it that you say you believe in?” The God revealed to the Christian is named. In an ancient letter investigating the early Christians on behalf of the Roman state, the observation is made that the Christians do not fail to mention Jesus Christ when they at the same time refer to God. In a world filled with gods, the God of the church is not a God in general. He is the God revealed in Jesus.
In the nondenominational churches of today which have been loosened from the three great Creeds of the church, it is rare to hear God referred to in his Trinitarian persons. They focus on one or the other but hardly ever all three at the same time. I think this is not good. It leads to places we don’t want to go – a pragmatic Unitarianism. The language of our baptism – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – is our native tongue. To speak of Him without these three names is unbaptized language.
Of course, what we have here is objectionable to many in the 21st century, the dominance of male imagery for God. No doubt about it, this is the dominant imagery for God. Our 21st century sensitivities notwithstanding. And yet, we know, do we not, that God is not a male or female. Maleness is not deified. Donald Bloesch suggests that it is appropriate, and maybe even necessary in certain circumstances, to address God in this manner – “Our Father who is also like a Mother to us….” I think that works. It goes someway toward explaining what William Paul Young is getting at in The Shack, picturing God as a matronly black woman, one of my favorite depictions of the nature of God, all within the context of orthodoxy Trinitarianism.
I do not buy into Olson’s suggestion that we pray to the Holy Spirit as female. It is true that the Hebrew for spirit is feminine, while in Greek it is neuter. Yet the wisdom of the church for over 2,000 years expressed in its creeds and liturgy clearly do otherwise. The Holy Spirit is life-giver, in general a female role. And for those males who have fallen in love with a woman, there is the intuitive understanding that femaleness is necessary to male existence and flourishing. It is not a passive, fragile and weak thing. It is a power. And the Bible certainly uses motherhood to describe the acts and person of God.
As fads blow against the church, forcing it to define itself over and over again, we must return to Scripture and the wisdom of 2,000 years of practice and liturgy to keep from losing our balance and falling over. And there is perhaps no hotter debate than how we practice gender identity and sexuality. This moment calls for courage, wisdom and strength.