Is God’s Love Paternal or Parental?

When I was child, on many occasions we recited the Lord’s Prayer that Jesus taught 2,000 years ago. It begins “Our Father,” which brought God closer to us than the awe-inspiring God of the Jews. Not to say that this version of God isn’t awe-inspiring! I think Jesus had great respect for his Heavenly Father, but his point was that God loves us as His children.

Now, the question I have in my mind is, does this God loves us with a father’s love, or is it a parental love which would include the characteristics of a mother’s love? In other words, is God’s love paternal or parental?

If we revisit the Lord’s Prayer, it seems pretty paternal to me:

Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 6:9-13

This Father God has a kingdom, power and glory, and a will. He supplies necessities, like bread. These attributes all seem to be quite father-like. He also forgives, fortunately, since it seems likely that we will “trespass,” but it’s a bit of a bargain we enter into because we have to forgive people who trespass against us. So not exactly unconditional!

The term “trespass” is a bit strange, and actually doesn’t appear in all versions of the prayer, but as a child this was the way we learned it. And we all knew what trespassing meant. It meant going onto someone else’s property when they had a sign that said “No Trespassing,” and you would get into trouble. On occasion there was a really good reason for not trespassing – like there was a bull in the field who would chase you and if you weren’t quick you would surely be badly injured!

In any case, this prayer wasn’t entirely comforting to me as a child. It made me imagine God as one of those potentially angry farmers or land owners who would yell at me if I went on to their land.

Of course, not all fathers are authoritarian and judgmental, threatening or doing harm to misbehaving children. And not all mothers are kind and nurturing. But, at that time when I was a child, it was the fathers who seemed to have the authority, and the power, to judge and mete out punishment.

So, back to the question. Is God’s love paternal or parental? If God is our Heavenly Father, a masculine being, is there not something missing? Did God not create both Adam and Eve, male and female? Are not all living things in creation in fact male and female, and the inanimate ones are positively charged or negatively charged? Would the creator of this balanced universe have only one of these attributes, or would they not need to have both aspects? To put it another way, is there a Mrs. God!

Life without a mother’s love can be quite lonely. For human society, in fact all of creation, to function harmoniously surely the nurturing care and concern of a maternal figure is needed. How else are we to be able to reconcile, and forgive those who trespass against us? It is the mother who encourages and supports such attitudes and behaviors.

Some cultures have included a Goddess, a divine feminine being. But again, unless you have a whole pantheon of Gods and Goddesses (like the Greeks and Romans for example) it is still one sided. In such cases, though, it is the masculine attributes that are lacking.

In 2013, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, co-founder of the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, suggested that we should offer prayers to our “Heavenly Parent.” By this she means that God’s relationship to us is not solely paternal, that of a masculine father, but incorporates both masculine and feminine aspects. Now, lest there be any confusion, we are not talking about two Gods here, but one God with these two aspects.

To me this means that God, our Heavenly Parent, loves us with parental love, including both a father’s and a mother’s love, not just the paternal love of a father. We can receive the powerful, awe-inspiring guidance of our Heavenly Father as well as the gentle, comforting nurturing of our Heavenly Mother. It sounds good to me!

In this way, God is truly the God of all creation, all human beings, both male and female. Having a Heavenly Parent, from whom we receive parental guidance and love, hopefully helps us to appreciate each other as God’s children.

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