THE FATHER ALMIGHTY
I recognise and agree with much that women believers have written about the patriarchal culture from which the notion of the male God arises, both about its insistence on male authority and its denigration of female ability. I am not denying that criticism when I point out that at least in the New Testament God is primarily understood as the father of JESUS. That is for example as the father of the one who had women disciples, defended women from easy divorce, welcomed the trust of prostitutes, resisted the law of stoning, and allowed himself to be rebuked by a gentile woman whose children he had insulted as dogs. Clearly the One Jesus called Abba was no purveyor of patriarchy. When Jesus refers to himself as a mother hen, he attributes motherliness also to his father.
I want to hold on to the image of God as the Abba of Jesus, while also welcoming womanly, as well as non-binary and asexual images, as long as they are compatible with God’s identity as the Abba of Jesus. There needs to be some criterion of appropriate imagery. The Bible ends with a womanly image of God as a mother who wipes away the tears from the eyes of her human children. God is said to have the strength of hills, and on the other hand to pant like a woman in labour. Human experience of God will generate many creative images which enrich the primary image of God as the Abba of Jesus.
There would be of course a problem in referring to God as the mother of Jesus, because the human Mary has this dignity, but that should not stop me praying to God as my (heavenly) mother and the mother of all living creatures. It is probably impossible to remove all taint of patriarchy from the Apostle’s Creed. If we did we would lose contact with the historical Christian communities of women and men who devised it.
“Almighty” is a problem of a different kind. It is a translation of Greek: pantokrator, Latin: omnipotent. These terms are drawn from the cult of ancient rulers, who were thought to have Godlike powers over their people, and in many cases over huge empires. The official propaganda of such rulers admitted no limit, natural or human, on their power of life and death over their subjects. It is not clear whether God language was first transferred to such rulers or vice versa, but it is clear that with significant modifications it was used by biblical writers of YAHWE, the God of Israel, and of the Abba of Jesus. Although the Old Testament uses power language of Yahwe, its stories often undermine those phrases. The book of Genesis for example plays sophisticated games with readers’ expectations, showing the creator as powerless in the face of the human creature’s evil, and having to befriend just one human family in order to persuade them of his wisdom. And most scandalously Yahwe does not intervene to save his chosen family from conquering empires. This God is no more almighty than the Abba of Jesus who does not prevent the execution of his son.
The Almighty God is of course also supreme in the heavens, “above all Gods” which relegates the Gods of other religions to a lower division. This is probably not a good start to interfaith discussion or multi- cultural community building.
I am strait -forwardly opposed to calling God “almighty”. Alfred North Whitehead, the 20th century philosopher, said that the discovery of God as persuasive rather than coercive, made in theory by Plato and in practice by Jesus, is the most important in the history of thought. I am aware that departing from “almighty” is just as problematic as departing from “father” would be, and just as divergent from those who created the Creed, but in this case I accept the problems and the divergence, because I simply do not believe in “the Almighty”