This week has been “experimental worship week” in chapel. Now, I’ll be honest, I was very sceptical. I was worried that “experimental” was just a fancy word for “charismatic”. Now I’m at home in charismatic circles, but don’t pretend it’s experimental. It’s not. But, luckily, I was wrong. The week really was experimental and, for the most part I loved it. But today, Friday, has really got me thinking and pondering. I found I was unable to join in.
So on Monday we did “chapel worship” via Facebook. What began as “linear” soon ended in up with people jumping backward and forward as comments were made on different things etc. I thought it was brilliant and really engaged with God through it.
Then on Tuesday we did “chapel worship” in the woods, ripping down ivy and burning it, while scripture was read and music was played. Another fantastic worship experience, which I really valued. The nice weather helped too!
Wednesday saw us have a “world cafe”. While I’m not convinced the name communicates what it was, I again really enjoyed it. We were asked to give thoughts regarding different questions and then go to another question. Think “house group” meets “speed dating”. The thoughts were all turned into prayer at the end. Again, I thought it worked really well.
Thursday is actually normally done in pastoral groups, so was a bit different. But we did a great activity which involved food and testimony in a “Brazilian” cafe. So far the week had been brilliant!
Then came today. Today we worshiped “Mother God”. The psalms were changed to reflect this, changing “he” for “she”, we stood and sang “Oh, how she loves us” and we finished with an “alternative Lord’s Prayer”, beginning “Our Mother”.
Now I’m not against this, it’s just I’m not for it either. In fact, I’m just not sure about it. Why? Well it’s hard to explain.
Firstly, men and women are both, equally, made in the image of God.
So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27, NRSV
That means that God isn’t a “man”. As one friend bluntly put it, as we discussed this, “God doesn’t have a penis”. Well no, I don’t suppose he does. God also gives metaphorical pictures of himself as a mother. For example, a line we repeated regularly this morning:
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. Isaiah 66:13a
But notice with me that the sentence starts with the word “as”, so this is a “simile”. In fact, all the references to God as “mother” are clearly similes or metaphors.
Now when I pointed this out to my friend her answer was, “Well that’s true for “Father” too.” But actually, no, I don’t think it is.
Now obviously, to a certain extent, she’s right. God doesn’t have a penis, so it’s a metaphor. But I still thinks it’s more than that. The name “Father” is one of the scriptural names which God has revealed about himself, in his Word. Jesus tells us to call God, “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9). Paul also spells out that calling God “Father” is so much more than a metaphor:
For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. Romans 8:15-16a
God isn’t just “like” a Father, he is our Father, because we, by the indwelling of the Spirit in us, have been adopted into his family and have been enabled to call him “Abba (e.g. Daddy), Father”. This is so, so, so much more than a metaphor. It’s one of the key ways in which God has chosen to reveal himself, our standing before him and the intimacy of relationship we have with him. God may well say he is “like” a mother, but he declares strongly that he IS our Father.
Now, I also know that God gives himself all sorts of other names, and reveals himself in other ways throughout scripture. So, for example, I have no problem referring to God as the great “I am”, as God reveals himself as such (Ex. 3:14). And of course all these “names” are, to a certain extent, metaphors and pictures that each give us a new angle to help get our heads about the incomprehensible majesty of our creator God. I know that. But are we free to start “making-up” our own names? I’m just not sure.
So like I say, I’m not against it, but I’m not for it either. I need to ponder further. No, God does not have a penis, but that does not make the term “Father” nothing more than a metaphor!!