Friday, March 10, 2017

Mark's Thoughts: The Shack's "Papa" - God the Father as a woman

The movie “The Shack” is filled heretical ideas that contradict the orthodox and catholic Christian faith.  One of the more obvious and striking is the fact that the God the Father is depicted as a woman who identifies herself as “Papa.”  The Scriptures are very clear and intentional as they refuse to identify God as a mother or woman.  Nowhere in the entire Bible is God addressed as “mother” or directly referred to using the noun “mother.”  In fact, nowhere in the Old or New Testament is God even referred to by a feminine pronoun.  

There is a very small group of passages that use feminine and/or maternal imagery to describe God and his actions.  It is critical to recognize that almost all of these are in the form of a simile (or if not in the explicit form with “like” or “as,” they are the functional equivalent).   A simile provides a more limited figure of speech since it draws a self-limiting comparison.  So in Isaiah 42:14, God can “cry out like a women in travail,” but here it his is crying out that is being referred to and he is not being identified as a woman giving birth.  Both in quantity and form the biblical language about God cannot be used to justify describing or depicting God as a woman.

The thing that is truly striking about biblical language for God is how different it is from what is found in the rest of the world’s religions.  The biblical writers did not unknowingly avoid feminine language due to their “patriarchalism.”  Their references to God as Father were made in the full awareness that the feminine alternative was available.  These writers acted out of a fundamental theological presupposition.

The biblical writers sought to avoid a theology which identified the Creator with the creation that occurs almost immediately when God is described as a mother or woman. Fallen man continues to want to “be like God” (Gen. 3:5) and seeks to avoid a transcendent Creator located over him.  Cultures have repeatedly sought to bridge this gap by identifying God with the world.  They have used feminine language for God because when this is done, the images of carrying in the womb and giving birth soon follow.  God and the world become linked through birth, and creation becomes an outgrowth of God.  When God is a woman or mother, the universe becomes linked with the goddess and she is identical with it. This tendency is readily seen in the modern appellation “Mother Earth” that is often associated with environmental concerns such as Earth Day.  We are told to, “Love your Mother.”

Biblical theology will have no part of this since God is the transcendent Creator who is completely separate from creation.  He is the Creator, Lord and Ruler of creation.  The masculine biblical language operates on a de-sexualized model.  It focuses on the God who gives (just as the male in the procreative act) while avoiding the feminine language which leads to a fusing of Creator and creation.  The presence of male and absence of female language leaves the emphasis on God as creator while eliminating the “biological father God” of paganism and making metaphorical “father language” about God possible. Because it removes sexuality from the equation (God has no consort or feminine other) it both avoids fallen man’s desire to fuse Creator and creation, and confesses that God alone creates outside of himself.

I have done an interview with Todd Wilken on Issues, Etc. about the topic of feminist God language. Those interested in a more detailed treatment of this subject can consult my article "God our Mother"? Biblical and Philosophical Considerations in Feminist God Language" that appeared in the Concordia Theological Quarterly, especially pages 49-54, 58-65.

1 comment:

  1. This is a good post on the subversive gender-bending of God in "The Shack.