Summary: Which cup have you chosen to drink from? The love of God, poured out in Jesus Christ, is complete, unlimited and unmixed; the wrath of God is simply what’s left over when his love is refused.
One of the things that still divides our denomination is the matter of “inclusive language.” It’s a difference that lines up pretty much the same way as all the other hot-button issues, with theological liberals on one side and theological conservatives on the other. But there are exceptions. My predecessor, Laura Smit. Who was as conservative as I am on most issues if not more so, changes the words in dozens of our choir anthems to take out “he” and “his” and “men” and
“mankind” and so on. I don’t think she was quite as touchy about referring to God with the masculine pronoun, though.
Anyway, one of the reasons for this change in the way we handle language is because using the masculine pronoun to mean both sexes has been blamed for past mistreatment and marginalization of women. I don’t think that changing the words was the right solution, myself, but that’s another story. But having pretty much won that argument, the language police then got started on trying to change the way we refer to God. Some Presbyterian congregations don’t even use the
classical trinitarian formula “Father, Son and Holy Spirit“ in baptism, even though that’s what both Jesus and our Book of Worship require. Instead, they say :Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.”
There are really two ideas behind this push to de-personalize the deity. The first is again to undo past misuse. God is spirit, not flesh, and is certainly not an old man with a long beard sitting on a throne surrounded by fat little cherubs playing harps no matter what Michelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel. Again, I think that changing the words doesn’t help matters at all. The Bible uses metaphors
because we need them, to make the invisible world real, to help our relationship with God come alive.
But the second reason for changing the language is a little more sensitive. Some feminist theologians argue that many women are unable to resonate to the image of God as father because their own fathers were absent or abusive or otherwise inadequate. Well, again, it is certainly true that fathers in our society have not lived up to the heavenly model. Although in my opinion it is the absent father, rather than the abusive one, that is the larger problem in our society. But in
either case, substituting either a mother god or an impersonal force for the Father God Jesus gives us access to isn’t the way to handle the problem. And of course it ignores the fact that there are just as many abusive mothers out there as abusive fathers. God’s solution for wounded spirits is much more creative and powerful than to avoid the risk of being in relationship.
I’ve talked to a lot of people about this issue, because it does divide our denomination and it shouldn’t. And frankly some of them have accused me of being insensitive to the pain abused women have experienced. But that is not true. Like many of you - both men and women - I had an abusive father. My sister was just down from New York a couple of weeks ago, and as we usually do we spend some time peeling back some more layers of our common experience. It