The second sermon in a series on the Apostles’ Creed. In the writing of this sermon I have benefitted from, and in some ways followed, a Father’s Day sermon that Karla Wubbenhorst (minister, Westminster, St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Guelph) has offered on the Fatherhood of God. I have also followed reflections on the Creed’s identification of God as Father offered by Luke Timothy Johnson in his book on the Creed.
I believe in God the Father…
As we explore these opening words of the Creed today, I’d actually like to begin by saying just a few words about my own father. I do this for the very simple reason that our discussion of God as father often begins, for better or worse, with the experiences we have had with our own fathers.
In describing my father, I would say he has always been in some sense old school and old country. He came to Canada as a young man, and there has certainly been firmness and a sense of discipline in his identity and role as father to me and my sisters – that’s what I mean by old school and old country. At the same time there has been in him a sense of fun and adventure – taking us places, teaching us new things. Above all I would say that he has loved us – not with a perfect love, not with a sappy love, but with a love that looks out for us and encourages us. He’s made mistakes with us (and no doubt I follow in his footsteps in that respect), but those mistakes don’t take away from his identity as a loving father.
But of course my experience in relation to my father is not the only experience out there. It is perhaps obvious to say that each of us has a unique experience in relation to our father. And the truth is that some of us have had strained or even difficult relationships with our fathers. Fathers, like everyone else (like mothers, like siblings, like friends), can fail, and sometimes do so spectacularly. Perhaps even among us there are some whose fathers were abusive, whose father’s caused them very real grief and pain.
With this in mind, some within the Church have argued that we should no longer refer to God as Father – for example the hymnbooks of a few denominations have eliminated all references to God as father. It is said that those who have had negative experiences with Fathers will be alienated by our identification of God as father. It is also argued that identifying God as a father will conjure up for them ideas about God that are not true to the identity of God.