In the film, Blue Like Jazz, Don Miller is sitting in class at the ultra-secular Reed College listening to his professor lecture against the Christianity he grew up with. Don ran away from home and is partly on a journey to run away from God.

So he raises his hand and asks, “Why would God want to call Himself father when so many fathers abandon their children? It feels like the worst PR move.”

The class laughs.

Don feels great.


Have you ever wondered why God would refer to Himself as He and Father?

An omniscient God must have foreseen the number of fathers who would abandon their children. Moreover, God must have known the tragedies that androcentrism would bring upon the world, and how it would create patriarchal structures that would breed toxic communities full of sexual, verbal, and physical abuse. Androcentrism was a problem that existed in 4000 BCE, and it continues to be a one of the prominent signs of brokenness in 2017.

Has God been taken by surprise that people today have started to organize against everything that supports the favoring of men over women?

Because as a result of this organizing, a lot of people are left with questions. Does God’s usage of masculine terms give androcentrism weight? Does “God as He” make masculinity closer to the divine than femininity? And does that then make femininity something farther away from the imago dei than masculinity?

I am certain that God is neither male nor masculine. I am also certain that neither masculinity nor femininity holds some sort of advantage over the other.

God is suprasexual—beyond gender and yet encompassing of all human gender.

But if God were to have chosen a more impersonal pronoun or some sort of other pronoun, the limitations with language and human understanding might have been too difficult for us. Humans exist in a gendered world. Male and female are familiar categories and easy to put faces on. Even the cultures that have given space to third genders still provide that term in relationship to the male and female categories.

Perhaps God saw that the necessary choice to be made so humans would understand Divine Personality was to deploy a metaphor that would communicate certain aspects of God’s personhood.

And so God chose “He” and “Father.”

Now, God as Father is a prevalent metaphor in the Scriptures, but it must be emphasized that it is not the only one. To explain God and Godself, God uses a number of metaphors: Redeemer, Lord, Savior, Judge, Advocate, Lover, King, and at times, even feminine imagery.

This all gives evidence to the limitations of language. When God uses metaphors God is telling us that that word—Father, King, Savior, Lover—is a useful reference point to help us understand who God is and what God does for us.

For example, in the sentence the sky was fire at sunrise, good English reading comprehension will tell me both what the sky was like—bright, vivid, red-orange—and what the sky was not like—probably not in actual flames.

I agree with my friend Kessia Reyne Bennett who wrote in her blog post, Make No Image, that when it comes to the metaphors the Divine uses to explain Personhood, we have to keep in mind that God is explaining what Divinity is like and what Divinity is not like. And if Yahweh is to remain Wholly Self-Defining—who can forget the words given to Moses, “I will be who I will be”—then we should permit Him to define His personhood. [1]

God happened to choose “He” and “Father” as some of His primary metaphors to express Divine Personality, but we should not make idols of the metaphors. We must emphasize that God created [the human] in his own image, in the image of God he created [them]; male and female he created them. (Gen 1:27)” [2]

God is like Father in the sense that fathers in the Bible used their love, strength, care, social mobility, and legal responsibilities to benefit their wives and children.

God is not like Father in the sense that fathers in the Bible abused their power, engaged in sexually illicit behaviors, and trampled or abandoned women and children in pursuit of their own gains.


To close this exploration into Divine Personality, I leave you with a meditation some of the early church fathers would use to instruct their pupils:

God is Father.

God is not Father.

God is not not Father.



[1] For deeper discussions on divine metaphors and idolatry, read Kessia Reyne Bennett’s blog post because it served as both inspiration and reference for my writing.

[2] I do not endorse all of the commentary on this site, but I am fully in agreement with their discussion on the Hebrew text. Genesis 1:27, the imago dei text, gives no particular attachments to masculinity even though the English implies it.