The Centrality of “Our Father” in an Age of Gender Confusion

July 20, 2018

Matthew 6:9

““This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father . . .”


WARNING LABEL: Today’s reading will frustrate some, be off-putting to some and seemingly irrelevant to others. Many others will find it instructive in healing ways. One of the great barriers to a life of prayer is our own broken and distorted images of God. Our broken images of God need healing if we are to grow in prayer. I wrote the entry below, posted it and later retracted it. (Some of you got the post in your email, but most did not) I think I feared being misunderstood and criticized. I have decided to go ahead and run it.

We all have a Father in Heaven.

We do not or did not all have a Father on Earth. We all have a male progenitor to be sure but not necessarily a Father. Many people who did not experience a good Father in their childhood understandably have a difficult time approaching and experiencing God as a good Father. Their image of a Father is distorted. As a result, when it comes to God, many have rejected the image and language of a father. Some insist father language is a vestige of oppressive patriarchy and press for its eradication.

Here’s my question. Instead of allowing a broken father experience on Earth to cause rejection of the possibility of experiencing a good Father in Heaven, why don’t we allow for the possibility of a good Father in heaven to heal our memory of a broken Father on Earth?

I recognize the complex difficulties and often atrocious histories here, and I have no right to instruct anyone in their experience of God. I am attempting to offer pastoral wisdom. Some respond by noting the many rich ways to know God’s nature other than Father, even noting God’s motherly qualities. True enough, however, the biblical prominence of Father language for God, most notably from Jesus, points to something essential and irreplaceable about the Fatherhood of God as a core tenet of the Christian faith.

To the extent we misunderstand the nature of God we will misappropriate the nature of humanity. The present day confusion around human gender is a case in point.

As confusion around gender identity grows, our clarity around the personhood and nature of God must increase all the more. We must remember when we talk about God we are not speaking in the categories of biology and gender but rather about theology and spirituality—the realm of Spirit and Truth. God has no gender. To call God Father does not mean God is in any way male; anymore than to call God mother would assign God to a feminine gender. Fatherhood, and for that matter, motherhood, are not so much biological categories as they are spiritual realities. They are spiritual identities exercised through spiritual practices.

Some may be scratching their heads at this point, wondering why I have chosen to wade into these waters today and what this has to do with the Disciple’s Prayer. We live in a day of unprecedented confusion when it comes to human gender. It creates barriers to prayer create barriers to prayer

As gender confusion increases, the state of human community divide and decrease. The way to community will not come through sociological or political theory but from theological clarity. The foundation of theological clarity begins with the Word of God, revealed by Jesus, the Son of God, through the inspiration of the Spirit of God.

So what does all of this have to do with prayer and more specifically, the Disciple’s Prayer? Everything. After all, when Jesus taught us to pray he revealed our starting place with two words. They are the two most game changing words of Jesus: “Our Father.”


Almighty Ascended Lord Jesus Christ, you are high and exalted yet nearer than our breath. We need your mind to gain clarity amid so much confusion in our culture and world today. Sort our confusion in your school of prayer and give us great patience. Right here, Jesus. Right now, Jesus. Amen.


  1. Do you see how our broken sense of God’s image can hinder our praying?
  2. None of us had perfect parents. How does your experience of your parents growing up impact your present day experience with God? For better and for worse.
  3. What shape has the healing of your own image of who God is and what God is like taken in your life?

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J.D. Walt, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Comments and Discussion

4 Responses

  1. You know, I’ve had to do a lot of thinking about the use of masculine nouns for God recently because I just got commissioned as a provisional elder in the UMC. Someone warned me I would be asked about my use in my theological questions. As I pondered it, I thought back to my learning under Dr. Sandy Richter about the realities of Ancient Near Eastern life. For Jesus to reveal God to us as Father is an incredible counter-cultural and unexpected concept when we really think about it. Consider what a father in an ANE household was: he was the chief, the authority, the taskmaster. He had full and complete authority over all of the possessions and people within his family group. True, he had the responsibilities for providing their daily needs, protection, etc. But the emphasis of the Father in the ANE household unit was on power and authority…one we see pretty clearly in the Old Testament. As we move to the New Testament, I think about how completely unexpected God our Father acted-not only in sending His son to become as a man, but also to send Him to die on the cross. And to top it all off, he reveals himself today through His church-a group of people who continue to make mistakes, continue to show our brokenness, and continue to (very) incompletely reveal God’s nature. And yet God continues to accomplish his salvation through his broken church. I just think about how revolutionary the words “Our Father” would have sounded to Jesus’ disciples, and then consider God’s self-sacrificial love and grace and think maybe God set it up exactly to be revealed as Father because He completely turned upside down the ANE and 1st century notions of who a father was and what they did. Just some random musings.

  2. One thing the church did for me growing up in the midst of the confusion about my Dad- a confusion that plagued me until the day he died and left me to sort through the remnants of his broken life–was to give me a strong sense that God as Father transcended anything on this earth. God was associated with big words like omnipotence and omniscient, words not used to describe any other being; and there were other words that had no bearing on life in this world. The church would do well to reclaim those words when talking about God rather than tossing them to the curb to make God more “accessible”. Another way to put it is that the church should, at the very least, give people a strong consistent understanding that there is a much bigger and better story going on than what any of us are currently experiencing. It was that sense of God, when all else failed–including the church–that pushed and continues to push me to pursue a more personal understanding of this omniscient and omnipotent God and acknowledge Him as my sole surviving parent.

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