“If we take seriously the idea that men and women are made in the image of God both male and female language should be used.”
When I meet someone new, I introduce myself as David. I'm gently riled if they then refer to me as 'Dave'. Dave is a TV channel, my name is David. That's how I've chosen to identify myself.
WATCH (Women And The Church) have for some time now advocated using female terms to refer to God. The Bible has female imagery (Jesus speaks of himself as a mother hen, for example), and the danger of using one set of words repeatedly is that they can come to confine God to a certain set of meanings, rather than allow God to be God. The issue has surfaced again over the weekend.
Under all of this is the basic question: has God revealed Him/Her/Its self to us. Has God given us a name by which to call him? (I'm going to use the male pronoun out of habit and precedent, and because it'll be unreadable otherwise). Through scripture, and Jesus (God incarnate, lets remember), has God given us particular ways in which to understand his character and nature? If so, then these images, metaphors and words have to anchor our ways of talking about God. Alternatively, if these are just the best guess of the people at the time, then we're quite within our rights to talk about God in any way we like. We are more likely to end up making God in our image, but at least we can ditch the words we find unhelpful or upsetting.
Cranmer has a piece up at the moment on 'truthiness' - our tendency to believe the things we want to be true, rather than the things that actually are true. History is littered with attempts to rewrite the Christian faith in the image of the writer, or the culture of the time, to have the God that we want to be real, rather than God as he actually is. If God is fundamentally other, then in describing him in the metaphors and titles we prefer there is the danger that we simply end up talking about humanity in a very loud voice, and cease to talk about the God who is who God is.
In WATCH's terms, this is part of a long-term goal to change the language we use about God: Watch’s chairwoman, Hilary Cotton, added: “We are at a very, very preliminary stage in terms of shifting the language of worship.
“The question of how might we rewrite the worship services of the Church of England in a way that broadens our understanding and perception of God is a really difficult question over which we will wrestle for a number of years to come.
Yes we need to use the full range of Biblical language to talk about God: wind and fire, judge and servant, warrior and lover, etc. But it's a brave person who thinks they know God better than Jesus: 'when you pray, say 'Father....' Of course, I'm a bloke, so this can all be discounted as patriarchal ranting by a theological dinosaur. But once we end up with a definition and an image of God that we're entirely comfortable with, then we're in trouble. We're sinners, we aren't whole people, we will only be entirely comfortable with God when we're fully renewed with him in glory. A God who really is God will never be an easy God for anyone in this life, as a skim-read of the Psalms will testify.
Yes, lets broaden our understanding and perception of God, but lets make sure it's God we're looking at, not just a reflection of ourselves.
The story is told of a girl who was hard at work drawing a picture. The teacher asked what she was doing: "I'm drawing a picture of God" she answered. "But nobody knows what God looks like." responded the teacher. She replied "they will when I've finished."