You can either have a Father or you can have a God. You cannot have both. I used to use the phrase “Father God” in my prayers a lot. But no longer. The two are not compatible. This, I believe, is central to the teachings of Jesus.
You see, both “Father” and “God” are relational signifiers. They refer to the nature of the relationship that exists between two holons*, rather than to something intrinsic to a particular individual. They are human words, after all, and humans are relational beings – known only in relationship.
Let me put it another way: objectively speaking, God is not “God”. “God” is simply the term that humans have assigned to that concept, that relationship. By assigning the term “God” to this relationship, we provide a framework for a common understanding. But while they facilitate communication in this way, words also obscure clarity. No two humans ever have identical experiences, so while words may aid understanding through connecting people to a general commonality of experience regarding that which they reference, they make no provision for the differences in the details. We may share a general understanding of a four-legged furry canine when we hear the word “dog”, but the word is incapable of providing clarity on the specific nature of the beast. Your “dog” may be an energetic Labrador that was your childhood companion, and your experience is infused with nostalgia and joy; my “dog” may be an embittered Chihuahua that bit my hand when I tried to pet it, and the experience is infused with trauma. “Dog” is not dog. “God” is not God. God is a being completely outside of our labels for God.
I need (particularly my Christian readers) to understand something: when, in these posts, I offer critique, it is not God I am questioning; it is “God”. Our understandings of God, not Godself, are where I have an issue. Jesus had an issue with that too, and that is what my journey centres on. If Jesus, whom we accept as the full and perfect revelation of God, had an issue with how we understand God, then I want to know what issues he had and what alternatives he offered.
And one of the key aspects of Jesus’s ministry, from what I can see, is that he changed the labels. Jesus’s refering to God as “Abba” is a novelty he introduced to theology. Remember, that labels are not the things themselves, but they do shape how we think about those things, and therefore also how we act in response. Labels have real power. And gods and fathers, when it comes to relational modes, are not the same thing at all.
Gods are distant and aloof and capricious (we frame it in more positive terms like “holy” but it is the same thing). They have fragile egos – when they are offended, they demand swift recompense. Their “justice” is bloody and often disproportionate to the crime that caused the offense in the first place. It doesn’t really matter whose blood is shed – any blood can be substituted for the offender’s – but there must be blood. Gods love sacrifice. They make rules that are more or less impossible to obey, and mete out the most awful punishments when we fail. They demand loyalty and obedience through fear. They have favourites. Usually the humans who adhere most closely and unquestioningly to their often arbitrary behavioural codes. They promise abundance in the afterlife to these faithful few. But honestly, faithfulness is not really a choice, given the alternatives on offer. Even then, the faithful have relatively little by way of perks in this life.
In family life we call all of this ‘abuse’. A family where the father operates in this way, like a god, would be completely dysfunctional. Because our identities are shaped in relationship, children who survive abusive familial relationships carry wounds that affect all of their subsequent relationships. Healthy families (and I use the term “family” in its broadest sense – from blood relatives, to schools, to the corporate environment) do not need people who relate as gods; they need people who relate as fathers.
There is a saying: hurt people hurt other people. Well, “God”-relationships hurt people. Even the most beneficent ones. Because “God”-relationships always have victims. Sacrifice and punishment and blood justice are indispensable to “God”-relationships; victims are unavoidable. “God”-relationships divide people: those who are on the right side of God and those who are not. And it sanctions the most despicable violence by the righteous against the unrighteous and justifies it as zeal.
But Jesus did not want us to think about Godself that way. Instead, he changed the label. “God” became “Father”. Fatherly relationships do not have victims. A child remains a child even when they are unrepentant and disobedient. They are no less children for that. Fathers seek unity without victims; a father who brutalises his child when his honour is offended is not a father at all.
God is not “God”; God is “Father”. You are not in a “God”-relationship. And, if Jesus is to be believed, then you never have been. You were, from the beginning, in a “Father”-relationship, but you never saw it. You got the labels wrong. “God”-relationships can only hurt you and cause you to hurt others. A revelation of Christ is this: you are in a “Father”-relationship. You cannot be in both at the same time: you can either have a God or you can have a Father. Choose.
- A holon is a term that refers to a being that is simultaneously whole and part of a greater whole, apart from which it cannot be understood