Thoughts on ‘This Is My Father’s World’

Re-post from 2008. I thought it was germane to some of the current discussion in the post Gender-Inclusive Language. This old post rings strongly of ‘Leave My Hymns Alone!

Albertan Rockies
Albertan Rockies

One of the most important events of my life was moving from Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Most notably, by moving to Ontario, I chose to go to the University of Ottawa for my undergrad rather than the University of Calgary. At the U of O, I met my wife, a fellow student of Classics.

In this move, I also learned more and more to trust my Saviour. I was torn from life in the country and began to live the city life. I left behind mountains! More importantly, I left behind friends and a supportive, loving, strong church community. Yet through it all, through the times of loneliness all alone at midnight on my bedroom floor rocking back and forth, God Almighty, Lord of all, was there. He became more real to me through this time.

I truly learned the message of ‘This Is My Father’s World‘ at that time, that the world, the creation, is the Lord’s. The fullness of His glory dwells herein. He speaks to us everywhere. In the rustling grass, I hear Him pass!

Our last Sunday at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Rocky we sang “This Is My Father’s World,” the music of the spheres ringing round us. My mom and I arrived in Thunder Bay before my dad’s official start at St. Thomas’, so we went to St. Paul’s our first Sunday in the city. And we sang “This Is My Father’s World,” the morning light declaring its Maker’s praise. And then, in case we hadn’t quite got the message yet, our first Sunday at St. Thomas’, we sang the hymn again, resting in the thought of rock and trees.

“This Is Our Father’s World” was almost like our theme song! And I wasn’t cognisant of it at the time, but this is the message I truly needed to hear as I crossed two provinces, from foothills to Canadian shield, as I left behind all I knew — that my Father was in control, and that “Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied, / and earth and heaven be one.”

Reading Week 2008. My wife and I avail ourselves of the GO Train and her grandpa’s generosity. We have a lovely visit with him and Ruth and stay with them on Saturday night. Sunday morning we go with them to the local United Church.

The sermon was good. The man preaching knew Jesus and preached that salvation is from Christ our God. It was a good sermon. And we almost sang two of my favourite hymns, “This Is My Father’s World” and “Be Thou My Vision.”

Only Voices United is a sad travesty and butchered both, the former more than the latter.

“This is God’s wondrous world,” the words read. I sang, “This is my Father’s world.” Rather than, “In the rustling grass, I hear him pass,” it read, “In the rustling grass, in the mountain pass.” I was more than a little perturbed and angry.

You see, as Christians, we don’t simply worship some vague divinity up there in the clouds. We worship a specific Person (or, more accurately, Persons) who is certain things and not others. One of the things God is is Father. Clearly no one thinks he has a penis. God does not have a penis. God is Spirit! But as Father, we are reminded that God is our creator, that He is the one who sustains the universe and keeps us alive.

In the Trinitarian God, the Father is the One Who begets the Son, the One from Whom the Spirit proceeds.

He loves us.

And He cannot be both Father and Mother because then He loses specificity and becomes a vague blob of some variety. God is beyond personality, as CS Lewis notes in Mere Christianity, but he is more than our personalities, not less. His role as Father is one of love, care, and benevolent rule.

A glance through Voices United showed me a hymn wherein God was called “Mother.” It’s one thing to call God “Mother” because He performs some motherly tasks for us, another to call Him “Mother” because you are being inclusive and a third to call Him “Mother” but not “Father” which is the biblical name for Him. Are we smarter than the Bible?

A review of Voices United cites that God is only called Father if the word Father is accompanied by the word Mother.

What Voices United is reminding us is that we are smarter than Scripture. It is the modern rejection of the old and traditional for the new and “progressive.”

I could rant longer but won’t. My gorge is rising to high and too quickly.

For the ruin of the falsehood that calling God Father won’t be of use to people who had bad dads, read Knowing God by J I Packer (p. 229, although that whole chapter “Sons of God” is worth a read to understand the fatherhood of God) and Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf (169-181; reader beware, he uses words such as ontologization and the clause, “the Father therefore constitutes the mutual relations between the persons as egalitarian rather than hierarchical”).

Edith M Humphrey’s book Ecstasy and Intimacy, pp. 170-174, dispels this whole “Mother God” business.

For the hubris of modernity, see Thomas Oden, The Rebirth of Orthodoxy.

Last, Jerome, quoted in Reading Scripture with the Church Fathers by Christopher A. Hall:

It is inconceivable that sex exists among God’s agencies, since even the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the usages of the Hebrew tongue, is expressed in the feminine gender, ruach, in Greek in the neuter, to pneuma, in Latin in the masculine, spiritus. Hence we must understand that when there is discussion concerning the above and something is set down in the masculine and feminine, it is not so much an indication of sex as an expression of the idiom of the language; because God Himself, the invisible and incorruptible, is represented in almost all languages in the masculine gender, and since sex does not apply to Him. (112)

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘This Is My Father’s World’

  1. You define God’s role as Father, saying, “His role as Father is one of love, care, and benevolent rule.” — I’m wondering which of those roles a Mother could not fill? You say those using “mother” are trying to be smarter than the bible — though I’m not entirely sure the type of parent a person imagines God to be is really a measure of their intelligence, nor evidence that they’re trying to out-think the Bible. Indeed, I believe the author of this article is the one overthinking this. God’s fingerprints are everywhere, after all. Even in the mountain pass. I wouldn’t say God *is* the mountain pass, though I wouldn’t say God isn’t either.

    I don’t think God particularly cares that you see God as Mother or Father, so long as your view of ‘a mother’ is a women of strength who carries with her the attributes we know God to be — as you summarized, a being of “love, care, and benevolent rule.” In fact, it makes perfect sense that the bible uses “Father”, since at the time the bible was written (and for much of history) assigning God the role of “Mother” would be viewed as much lower status. And, to be clear, if you view women or mothers as lower status you definitely don’t want to think of God that way, but perhaps it is your view of female figures that needs to be called into question, not your view of God.

    My point is, if you’re calling “God” something other than “God” I’m not concerned with what it is particularly, so long as you do so with respect to just how awesome, powerful, loving, and real God truly is. If “mother” paints that picture better for some people, then they ought to hear it that way sometimes.

    I simply refuse to limit God’s image in my mind to that of how I imagine a Father to be. Even though it is impossible to know just how great God is, I personally find it helpful to remind myself that God embodies more than even I could comprehend. The term “Mother” doesn’t have to fit *over* God, like a glove. God is too big for that. Similarly, God is too big for the word “Father”. God is more than that. But, both words can fit *within* God’s scope and essence. They both highlight select attributes of God in useful ways to aid mere human minds to better understand and relate to God. They ascribe purpose, value, and personal connection to God.

    If your view is that God can’t *be* Mother to someone, or if God can’t speak in the mountain pass, it is my view that your view of God is one of severe limitations. Why let these earthly things interrupt your worship of the most-high? Once in heaven, God can daily update all of us on if he feels more like a mother or a father on any given day. Until then, as you so eloquently stated, “God does not have a penis.” — so simply ascribe to God an appropriate and astute descriptor, and try to worry a little less when another person’s descriptor doesn’t match up with your own. After all, they are still worshipping the one true God. Possibly more freely than you. Best get used to “This is God’s wondrous world” while on earth. That person might be singing it next to you for an eternity in heaven, in glorious praise to the Father — or, Mother — or, Parent — or, whatever God is.

    • Quite honestly, I see the author has an elaborate website and surely has views/beliefs with roots deep into the ground. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. Just to offer an alternative perspective.

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