At times the Bible uses feminine imagery for God, so why do we not refer to God as mother? Joe Heschmeyer considers whether the modern Church should reconsider the masculine in reference to God.
Cy Kellett: Hello, and welcome to Focus, the Catholic Answers podcast for living, understanding, and defending your Catholic faith. I’m Cy Kellett, your host. Joe Heschmeyer our guests today. And the question is, what do we make of those who would prefer to address God as mother? Well, how do we respond to those who would prefer to address God as mother? Or might in fact say, “Well, we can address God as both father and mother.” Or even go so far as one kind of Christian-ish sect is now saying and say, “Well, there’s probably two gods.” Or they don’t say probably, it’s, there’s a woman God and a man God, a mother God and a Father God. Joe Heschmeyer of course the author of a whole bunch of books, including this one right here, The Early Church was the Catholic Church and an apologist here at Catholic Answers. Joe, thanks for doing this with us.
Joe Heschmeyer: It’s my pleasure.
Cy Kellett: It’s always good to get two men together and talk about these kind of issues. I think it lends in a real credibility.
Joe Heschmeyer: Yes. I mean the choices are otherwise you just have the female guest who’s just like the token female, let me talk about women’s issues. And it’s like, no, no, that’s actually not that nice either.
Cy Kellett: No, I know.
Joe Heschmeyer: Neither of those answers is very good.
Cy Kellett: Life is so hard for us, Joe. This life in the media is so hard for us. But let’s move on to the apologetics question. Okay, so I mean I’ve been hearing this since, I think, the first time I remember it was freshman theology in college, and the reference of the mother hen in the Gospel, and God… Wanting to say, “Well, we’re, especially with a philosophical understanding of the biblical texts, so it’s just perfectly as reasonable to call God mother as Father.” Is that the case?
Joe Heschmeyer: No, but there is a reason those biblical texts are there and a reason that they use maternal imagery. So we want to be clear about a few things at the outset. First, there’s a lot of talk today about letting people choose their own pronouns, and I don’t think that’s a good way of living in reality, because you don’t create your own gender. But I find it really striking that many of the same people arguing for the ability of us to choose our own pronouns don’t use God’s preferred pronouns. That when He reveals Himself-
Cy Kellett: That’s funny.
Joe Heschmeyer: … as he, that they want to say, “Yeah, but I prefer to think of you as a she.” And the danger there is that we remake God in our image, that we project our own image of what we want God to be onto Him. And the check against that is not, well, we got to do it a male way, or we got to do it my preferred way.
No, no. The check is like, well how does God reveal Himself? And the way He reveals Himself is using these masculine pronouns, but also using a mixture of both masculine and feminine kind of images that point to who He is. So we want to say, on the one hand, we are right to call God he. And on the other hand, we don’t literally believe that God is a male, that God’s not man or woman. He’s not male or female. He’s beyond sex. He’s the author of both masculinity and femininity. And both masculinity and femininity point to something important in God, so that we can say both men and women are made in the image of God and reveal something about God in a special way.
And that’s really nothing other than Genesis 1, and male and female had created them. In the image of God, He created them. That male and female are explicitly cited as being created in the image of God. So when we talk about being made in the image of God, we don’t mean something bodily. We don’t mean my body looks more like God’s body. We mean there’s something in the soul and something in the human nature that really reveals something about God. And this is expressed both in men and women, but we express something different about God.
Cy Kellett: Okay, so let me give you the baseline critique, I always like to start with the kind of lowest level critique, the one you would get on MSNBC, and that would be… Well, you start at the bottom and you work your way up. But that would be, look, Joe, you reference Genesis 1, you can reference whatever you want in the Bible it was written by men. It was an extraordinarily male dominated society. Of course, they’re going to give us a male image of God, and it’s perfectly reasonable for us to correct that in our day.
Joe Heschmeyer: Yeah, I think there’s a couple things there. Number one, you either believe that God revealed Himself and guided the process of revelation, or you don’t. Because if you think this is just men telling us their ideas about God, well, then what you’re really saying is, “I don’t think God revealed himself in this Judaeo-Christian way.” And then the logical thing isn’t to keep some feminized version of Christianity. It’s to just say, “Yeah, I don’t believe the Christian claim. I don’t believe God revealed Himself in the way that you say He revealed Himself.”
Those are the stakes. When you say, “I know scripture says this, but I don’t trust the transmission of scripture. I don’t trust the authors of scripture, so I’m going to do my own thing.” That’s the first thing. The second is there’s actually really good evidence internal to scripture that points against that. We see it all over the place. We see it in the Old Testament and the New Testament. You’ve got, for instance, the entire book of Ruth. Go read the Book of Ruth and tell me this is just a product of a misogynistic culture. The protagonist in the story is a woman, and whatever the secondary character is primarily her mother-in-law. I mean the so-called Bechdel test, where it’s a test in media to say, are there any scenes in this film in which two women talk to one another, not about men? And there’s this-
Cy Kellett: Oh, you’ve told me about that before. And that gives you a sense of whether women are being treated-
Joe Heschmeyer: It’s in feminist theory. Are women just tokens for men? And a lot of modern media can’t pass this test, and sometimes reasonably so, like with a World War II movie, there may not be women on the battlefield, fine. But a lot of mass media today doesn’t pass a test just because they don’t treat women as equally interesting characters of focus. But the Bible does. I mean it’s really kind of remarkable. You have these entire scenes where you’re just following this story of a particular woman, whether that’s Hagar with Ishmael or whether it’s Ruth or all of these examples.
And then in the New Testament you just have to look at the way Jesus treats women. He’s not just going with the culture of the day. And so without denying that there was deep seated sexism, of course. What’s remarkable about the Bible isn’t that you find traces of that deep seated sexism. What’s remarkable about the Bible is that you see ways in which that sexism is really challenged and confronted in all sorts of really fascinating ways. And so given that, the fact that there’s still this depiction of God as he, you can’t just write it off to misogyny. It just doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work.
Cy Kellett: So then Christ Himself in our Father tells us to address God as Father, so you can’t get a more… I mean if you are a Christian believer, you have God the Son come among us as a man, speak to us in our own language to say, “Address God as Father. When you pray say, ‘Our Father who art in heaven.'” So can you give me a little bit of whatever the thought is about why Jesus does that, even though Jesus knows that, as you said, the Father is not embodied. The Father doesn’t have a male body.
Joe Heschmeyer: So Benedict XVI talks about this in volume one of his Jesus of Nazareth trilogy. And one of the things he points out is that we get images of divine motherhood, if you will. Like mother is an image for God, but on a title for God in the Bible. This is a really important distinction. And he says, “Well, why is this?” He says, “We can only tentatively seek to understand. Of course, God is neither a man nor a woman, but simply God, the creator of man and woman.” But then he says, “The mother deities that’s completely surrounded the people of Israel and the New Testament church create a picture of the relation between God and the world that is completely opposed to the biblical image. These deities,” mother deities, these goddesses, “always and probably inevitably implies some form of pantheism in which the difference between creator and creature disappears.”
In other words, if you look at these goddess religions, they end up being Gaia. They end up being Mother Earth. They end up being some natural coming forth from God with creation, because that’s the maternal kind of relationship to a child. You see the child come forth from the mother, it’s totally natural. You see the connection between mother and baby. Whereas the father’s connection to the baby is much more mysterious and much more external. But the father is apart from the baby in a different way than the mother is.
Cy Kellett: It’s almost as-
Joe Heschmeyer: And that this is… Oh, go ahead. Go ahead.
Cy Kellett: Well, it just strikes me that at least whatever we might say about God’s reasons, because God’s reasons are God’s and I don’t know them, but we can say that one of the benefits of God being presented to us as Father is a certain sense of delineation between ourselves and God, in other words, which is-
Joe Heschmeyer: Exactly.
Cy Kellett: Okay. That’s actually a gift in to all of us then.
Joe Heschmeyer: Yeah. And I think both goddess religions and Christianity would say this is a point in which we are different. That goddess religions, the great thing is this natural communion in Godhead. That, oh, we’re all just part of God, or Earth is God and God is Earth and all that. And the Christian message is, “No, God is the creator of heaven and earth, but He’s transcendent. He stands apart from it.” Now He’s intimately involved, He’s a loving father, but He is not just a mother who we all spring from, like a Zeus springing from the head of Athena, or it’s not like that. This is something radically different.
Cy Kellett: I think it was the other way around, Athena-
Joe Heschmeyer: Oh, yes.
Cy Kellett: …she was springing from the head of Zeus, because she’s his daughter. In a weird kind of way, is that a daughter though?
Joe Heschmeyer: Yeah. Fair enough.
Cy Kellett: So I just want to stay on this point for a minute, because there is something in the revelation of God as Father, which is a refutation of some really dangerous ideas, which is to say, “I am God,” or, “I am somehow sharing in God’s…” Like we do with our mother, we nurse at the breast, we’re carried in the womb. There’s a way in which the mother’s relationship with the child kind of encompasses the child, where the father’s relationship with the child is, as you said, exterior. You can see all kinds of benefits to this. That this allows a zone of freedom and independence for us that God seems to intend for us.
Joe Heschmeyer: Yeah, absolutely. I think that’s very well put. And this also explains, by the way, why you would get both masculine and feminine images of God in scripture. Because even though it’s important that we first understand the fatherhood of God, we should also understand His imminence. Now this is why that matters, that we have to get these things right in this order. Because our first understanding of God, and we too often just make God an extension of ourself or make God in our image, and we have to first realize He is who is, we are who aren’t. That we don’t exist in the way He exists. We are these radically dependent creatures and we’re creatures. And He is neither a creature nor dependent. That he stands apart in this really radical way.
So the catechism, in paragraph 239, talks about this, that by calling God Father we’re expressing two things. First that He’s the first origin of everything, and the transcendent authority. And second, that He’s at the same time goodness and loving care for His children. That is, we don’t just describe Him as a male, we don’t just describe Him as a deadbeat dad, but He’s actually a father. He has this tender care for us. Even though we are not Him, we’re utterly different than Him, He nevertheless loves us. That then, once you get those two points right, now you can make sense of these motherhood images, which as the catechism says, emphasize His imminence in the intimacy between creator and creature.
Get that we are a part by nature, and then get that we’re united by grace. But if you don’t get that separation by nature first, then the intimacy brought about through grace doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t seem to be anything special. It just appears to be pantheism.
Cy Kellett: Okay. And so the pantheism connection is that we do naturally experience ourselves as born from the Earth, as born from the universe. And so the tendency, if we identified God as mother, would be to do that one thing we talked about, which would be to kind of envelope us in God or tend towards that.
Joe Heschmeyer: Yes, exactly.
Cy Kellett: But the other thing would be, the tendency would be to envelop God into nature. And that’s what you’re talking about when you say pantheism. That it-
Joe Heschmeyer: Yeah, absolutely.
Cy Kellett: How would we distinguish between God and nature if we think of God as mother? Because nature is so clearly motherly to us, that we’ve literally been born out of it.
Joe Heschmeyer: Yeah. There’s a reason that we say things like Mother Earth and we don’t say Father Earth. That the intimacy of that connection, that natural intimacy is expressed in that. I mean, this is one of the things that’s really fascinating in the developmental sciences. There’s this question about when a baby has a sense of being a separate self from his mother, and it’s not even at birth, it’s seemingly well after that. I mean you can see this really clearly with an infant. I mean we’ve got a one-year-old, and let’s just say he doesn’t want both parents equally.
Cy Kellett: No.
Joe Heschmeyer: When he comes to me, it’s a cheap substitute for the one he wants to be with, because he views her as another half of himself, as another part of himself. And that’s really good and beautiful. And there’s actually something about divine communion that’s expressed there, both in terms of the inner life of God, in terms of the Trinity, but also the divine community has planned for us.
So all of that speaks to the eminence of God. But you have to first realize, but I’m not actually the same as you. I’m not actually part of you. And so the fatherhood of God gets that first thing first, that, yeah, as maternal as God’s love for us can be expressed. He’s not just mom. He’s not just mother. And so there’s a reason why for all of these images of the mother hen or if a mother should forget her child, even then I would not forget you. All of these images we find in the Bible that speak of the love of God in this way, never do they take the step further and say, “Therefore God is mother.”
And now again I want to be really clear that we are made in the image of God and not the other way around. That’s part of this. So the catechism goes on in paragraph 370 to say, “In no way is God and man’s image. He’s neither man nor woman. God is pure spirit in which there is no place for the difference between the sexes, but the respective perfections of man and woman reflects something of the infinite perfection of God, those of a mother and those of a father and husband.”
So in other words, those are the kind of images that we see of God. We see God being depicted in this maternal way, in this paternal way ,and in this spousal way, but particularly as the husband. And that’s an important, I think, related issue. Another reason why the masculine language for God matters is because He serves as bridegroom to his people. And we see this in a special way with Christ and the church. That as the bridegroom, He’s taking the initiative and that ours is a response. We have an active response, but He’s the one who has to make the first step.
And so there’s a whole theology of grace that’s going on right there. That even when you are at your lowest point and you turn back to God and you feel like the prodigal son deciding to go home, even in that moment, when you maybe feel most apart from God and you’re working up the courage to come back to Him, only because of His prior action of grace, you even have the courage to take that first step. He’s actually already at work.
So in all of this, we believe in the absolute priority of divine action in the order of grace. That is to say, God always reaches out to us, we don’t reach out to Him. We reach out to him in response, but even then it’s only because He’s already done the work. All of that is to say, He acts as the bridegroom. He acts as the male suitor who He knocks at the door and then He awaits our response. And so we are in the feminine role in response to that. So that’s why it matters to depict Him as father, and then relatedly as bridegroom.
Cy Kellett: Okay. So, Joe, since you bring Christ the Son into this, that there’s something about the maleness of Christ which compels any person following Christ to reevaluate what is thought of as masculine. That is Christ lives the most perfectly manly life, and it doesn’t look like the story we always tell ourselves about what manliness is. So, okay, you want start with that and I’ll follow up.
Joe Heschmeyer: Well, no, I was thinking about a Protestant preacher I believe was Mark Driscoll, then of Mars Hills Church, who said something to the effect of, he wouldn’t follow a Christ he could beat up in an MMA fight. It was just this is bananas, insane kind of way of thinking about God. If you can beat Him up, you don’t want to follow Him. And it’s like, “Well, yeah, you do know He was scourged and then crucified, right? He willingly submits to it.” Now, obviously, He could have I guess won an arm wrestling contest against the Romans.
But what’s remarkable about the New Testament presentation of Christ is it doesn’t talk about any arm wrestling contests. That He’s not constantly trying to show His masculinity. He’s not insecure in His masculinity the way so many of these kind of popular preachers who focus on this kind of machismo version of Christianity seem to be. That Christ does things, like He lives this life being a lamb led to the slaughter. He’s gentle. He’s meek of heart. He’s all these things that you don’t normally hear the stereotypical men boasting it. Like, “Hey, guys, I’m super meek. I’m very humble.” That sort of thing. I think that there’s something lacking in our vision of masculinity if we don’t appreciate that those are also virtues that the perfect man had.
Cy Kellett: But then would you say that the fatherhood of God that’s expressed in the biblical texts is also acting socially as a critique, maybe, of some modes of fatherhood as well. That is as a corrective. That there’s something in the presentation of God as father that corrects our earthly kind of inclinations as fathers?
Joe Heschmeyer: I would say, yes and no to that. The reason I would partly say no is because we don’t want to suggest that God as father is an image that’s a response to a human reality.
Cy Kellett: Ah, gotcha. Okay.
Joe Heschmeyer: That God [inaudible 00:19:14], “look at how we’ve messed this up. Let me give you a better vision of what fatherhood looks like.” It’s the other way around. And Aquinas is really explicit on this. When we talk about the names of God or we talk about the titles of God, some of them are earthly realities, analogously applied to God. When we say Christ is a lion of Judah, a lion is more literally a lion than Jesus is a lion. Narnia to one side.
Cy Kellett: Right, I see what you mean.
Joe Heschmeyer: But when we talk about fatherhood, it’s not that God is analogously father and that we are the true fathers. Ephesians 3:14 says the exact opposite, “I’d bend my knee before the Father, pater, for whom every family, patria, in heaven on earth is named.”
That there’s this sense in which every father on Earth is a cheap imitation of the one Father, God. So when Jesus says, “Call no man on earth your Father,” that’s what he actually means. He’s not literally saying, “Don’t say Happy Father’s Day, say something else instead.” He’s not saying, “Don’t call priest father.” And he’s not making a point just about spiritual fatherhood, he’s making a point about all fatherhood. Biological and spiritual fatherhood, which should have some overlap, they are pointing to something that’s properly found in the nature of God the Father. But this is something in the nature of Him, not only in relation to us, but even in some way in the begetting that happens within the Trinity itself. That the way he pours himself out for the second person of the Trinity, that there’s something very fatherly about that.
And that what we are trying to represent here below is that eternal mystery. And we do the best we can in our own limited ways. But we should know that there is one true father and a bunch of imitators. So by all means affirm and praise fatherhood. But don’t get those two things switched around, because it’s true, as you said in the beginning, a lot of the examples we have of fatherhood are perverted, they’re messed up, they’re broken in some really important ways. And yet God shows us what that ought to look like.
Cy Kellett: I really appreciate that answer. A lot in there I would not have thought of, Joe, so I’m very grateful for that answer. I do have the impression that the entire modern world presents intellectual challenges to Christian faith again and again and again. Whether it’s the discovery of the proper motion of the cosmos to the modern, I don’t know how to say it, I almost going to say the modern discovery of the equality of men and women. But certainly that’s a social movement that presents intellectual challenges to Christianity, challenges that we should be happy to take up.
But sometimes I feel a bit, and I’m just going to share my feeling, and if you don’t want to respond to my feeling, you don’t have to, because it’s not actually a question, there are religious leaders who pander to the modern imagination, rather than are willing to challenge the modern imagination back. And some of this, I know that there’s many, many sincere people who are aggrieved for one reason or another, that God presents Himself, reveals Himself to us as Father. But I think a lot of that sense of grievance actually comes from ministers of the church who pander to that kind of grievance.
Joe Heschmeyer: Absolutely. I think that when we back down… There are two kind of ways that we handle these things. Because, by all means, we know there’s a huge crisis in the culture of women who have been hurt by men. And it would be very hard to explain the history of, say, the second and third wave feminist movements without understanding this, that fathers have let down women, boyfriends and would-be boyfriends, would-be husbands, suitors, hookups, have left women.
Cy Kellett: And actual husbands.
Joe Heschmeyer: And actual… Yeah, good point. I’m trying to leave myself off the list, if I can. But, no, in all seriousness, there is this crisis of women feeling let down by men and having legitimate grievances. And I think there’s two ways we kind of respond to that. One is to avoid all of this masculine stuff in the Bible. And the other is to lean into it in this really unhelpful kind of way, in a kind of salt in the wound sort of way. And we want to avoid both of those. And I think we instead need to hold this up as something that’s properly transformative. So the great verse for this is Romans 12:2, Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind.
Now that kind of idea, that transformation of the mind to break away from the patterns of thought of your day is a perennial challenge, whether you’re in the first century or the 21st century. That the world around you is not driven by their love of God, to put it very mildly. The imagination of the world is not a holy and pious imagination. And its image of what masculinity is and what femininity is and the like, is broken and corrupted. And what’s needed there isn’t for Christians to run away from the field or to just be ungraciously unhelpful, but to rather present something that’s really transformative and really healing with this renewal of the mind. That part of it is changing how we understand God.
Now, you can see this in the stats by the way. Children who are brought up without a father in the home are statistically more likely to become atheists. And although there’s no way to measure this part, I would bet all the maker money I have on the proposition that children raised in a home with a really bad dad are more likely to become atheists. For the simple reason that if your experiences of fatherhood are nonexistent or negative, it’s a lot harder to believe in a loving father.
But that’s all the more reason why the church needs to be bold in proclaiming that there is a loving father, because people are hungry for… Everyone needs a father and a mother. Everyone needs this parental love, and that love of a father and of a mother is properly found in God. I mean even though we described this in terms of the masculinity of God, He’s fulfilling both of those things. Now there’s a special way, certainly as Catholics, we find some of that maternal love in the Virgin Mary’s model, but this infinite, uncreated love of God, it is actually an even more perfect source of that.
Cy Kellett: There is something, and you don’t have to get into this now, but I mean there is something extraordinarily powerful and clearly an important message is being communicated to us that the greatest creature that God ever created is a human woman. There’s something so affirmative of that. And I do appreciate that about the Catholic faith. I have just two more questions for you before I let you go.
Joe Heschmeyer: Well, I might actually just say something very quickly on that, which is that that really is the flip side of the coin of everything we’ve just said. If the order of grace is that Christ is the bridegroom, the corollary is that the church is the bride. And that Mary was once the entire Christian Church in a real way. She was the only believer in the Christian message. She was the only one who knew it. And so she is the perfect embodiment of the church. St. Ambrose said, “whatever you say of Mary is said of the church, whatever you say of the church is said of Mary.”
So they’re both these virgins who are betrothed, they are married in some sense, and yet still virginal and yet still have children. So it’s very much this-
Cy Kellett: Wonderful.
Joe Heschmeyer: … married image of the church. All of that really points to what we’re saying here. But we can even say that the level of the individuals soul, like the most masculine dude in the world, have to be the responsive party, when it comes to God’s action. If he insists on trying to call all the shots, he’s not ready to enter the kingdom of God.
Cy Kellett: I don’t like that last point, but, okay. No, you’re completely right.
Joe Heschmeyer: I don’t think you’re exactly who I had in mind when I said the most… Whatever.
Cy Kellett: But one extraordinary piece of evidence that God knows what He’s doing, and I’m going to throw this out at you and you make what you want of it, and then I’m going to ask you about a particular sect who’s growing rapidly around the world preaching God the mother. But one of the striking things about Christianity, whatever you might say, however you might critique the presentation of God in Christianity as male, that is fatherly and as male, the Son, and even when God incarnates he takes on a male flesh, is that it is the-
Joe Heschmeyer: Well, even with the Spirit, we use the masculine pronoun for the Holy-
Cy Kellett: Right, He.
Joe Heschmeyer: … Spirit too.
Cy Kellett: So all of that said, it seems to me God knows what He’s doing, because Christianity is the most feminine religion in the world. There is no other religion you’ll go into where on Sunday the women outnumber the men, or if it’s a Saturday or Friday or whatever. Women are the practitioners of Christianity at a higher rate than men are. And have you noticed that that’s not the case in Islam, that’s not the case in Buddhism. That there is something about this that is actually quite successful.
Joe Heschmeyer: Actually, I want to accept that and challenge it at the same time, so another yes and no kind of answer. But I think you’re absolutely right about that. This is partly what it means to for the church to be bride. But I think there is a way in which certain cultural contexts, this has been exaggerated, where there can be a sort of piety that is very feminine, and where men just say, “Eh, it’s not really for me.”
I was reading a scholarly thing in the history of Spain and how this was a real problem in Spain, where men would only want to marry a girl who was a faithful Christian, and would go to mass every Sunday. But they wouldn’t themselves go to mass like that was for the wives and children. And that’s not a good… You know what I mean? If we want-
Cy Kellett: Yeah, I see what you’re saying. Yes. Right.
Joe Heschmeyer: … a vision of church, we should have something close to parity in the church. But it’s worth point out that where we don’t have parity, it’s not because it’s so male dominated. It’s actually very striking, when you think of the church not just as clergy, but also as the whole people of God, the picture changes dramatically. And you realize, “Oh, actually this body is majority female.” And these women haven’t all been driven away by the male pronouns for God. They haven’t been all driven away by the-
Cy Kellett: No, but if-
Joe Heschmeyer: … male priests or anything of the sort.
Cy Kellett: … the main problem we have is that we tend to be dominated by women and by the feminine, then this is not an anti-feminine religion.
Joe Heschmeyer: Absolutely not.
Cy Kellett: That’s the point, I’m-
Joe Heschmeyer: In other words, I think the people making that critique, it’s like going into a room that’s a little too cold and saying, “Eh, I think we should turn the AC a little colder.” And you just think, “Oh, that’s probably not the right diagnosis-
Cy Kellett: “What are you doing?”
Joe Heschmeyer: … for the problem.”
Cy Kellett: The World Mission Society Church of God started in Korea, and it claims to be the only church on Earth founded by God himself. By the way-
Joe Heschmeyer: Wow.
Cy Kellett: … they’re mistaken in that.
Joe Heschmeyer: I can think of another.
Cy Kellett: And then they’ve grown out of Korea and they’re expanding. And I actually think that this idea of pandering might well relate to the World Mission Society Church of God. But I just want to read to you from their website, and get a response. Because they claim the Bible teaches that God is two, that there’s, essentially, two God’s, God Father and God mother. The church of God believes in God the Father and God the mother, according to the Bible, the Bible which God has given us for our salvation testifies about both God the Father and God the mother. They give two Bible citations, which I’ll give you if you want them. But-
Joe Heschmeyer: Please, I would be fascinated to find that-
Cy Kellett: Matthew 6:9 and Galatians 4:26.
Joe Heschmeyer: Matthew 6:9, that’s the Our Father.
Cy Kellett: Is it? I didn’t even look it up. I didn’t know if you would want to get into the biblical citations. But just let me just finish their pitch here. We follow the examples of God the Father and God the mother who love, serve, and sacrifice for all humankind. How might a Christian respond to this idea of a duality in the Godhead?
Joe Heschmeyer: Well, I think it’s worth addressing the biblical citations, because one of those is legitimate. The reference to God the Father is very clearly the Our Father. Fair enough, Matthew 6:9 totally proves half of their case. But the controversial half of their case is Galatians 4:26, I think you said, which says, the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. But that’s pretty explicitly not a reference to God, but the church triumphant. The city of God is Jerusalem-
Cy Kellett: Right, the Jerusalem-
Joe Heschmeyer: … the city of peace. That’s the jeru and jerushalem, city of peace. So to say, Jerusalem is God-
Cy Kellett: It’s the mystery of the Bible.
Joe Heschmeyer: … never in scripture is Jerusalem God. It’s the city of God, in the same way the church is the church of God, but it’s not God Himself.
Cy Kellett: No.
Joe Heschmeyer: Or God herself, that is a ridiculous misreading. But that’s the biblical level. We can also say there’s just a fundamental theological and even philosophical problem. When you have polytheism, you’re left with two problems. One, is there a supreme God or not? If there is, then you still have monotheism, because you have the one who’s worthy of the name God, and then some other powerful spiritual beings. We’ve got powerful spiritual beings in Christianity, we call them angels and demons. Angels, archangels, thrones, dominions, powers of principalities. If that’s what you mean by God, you just mean a powerful spiritual being, then we’re using God in different senses, but we only believe in one God.
If you mean that there are two equally powerful, all powerful beings, that’s a nonsensical kind of idea for two reasons. One, you can’t have two contrary infinites. You can’t have two different infinitely powerful being. What if they disagree with each other? And, two, you can’t have two separate sources of creation. The unity of God is really important for the unity of reality. This is why polytheism doesn’t really make sense. Imagine a world in which you’ve got a storm God and you’ve got another God for the harvest and another God for the sun and everything else. You get into some of the old pagan religions.
Well, who is it who decides on the weather? Do they all just throw everything they’ve got at the land and see what happens? Does one of them decide who gets to take turns? So you end up, even in paganism, there’s this tendency to argue that there is a king of the gods or that there’s some God above the gods. In other words, they still have to default to monotheism or something like monotheism to explain the unity of reality. Because you just can’t have two separate, uncreated creators of everything, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t work.
Cy Kellett: So I think that’s enough, Joe, we got to wrap it up. I’ve kept you too long, but thank you very, very much. You go back to being a father now yourself. Even if they don’t, the babies don’t like you as much as mom, you got to take care of them.
Joe Heschmeyer: I’m happy to be the second most important parent in the family.
Cy Kellett: And that changes throughout their-
Joe Heschmeyer: Especially at night.
Cy Kellett: Yes. I’m sure. Joe Heschmeyer, apologist, author of The Early Church was the Catholic Church, and many other books, we’re very grateful for you taking the time with us.
Joe Heschmeyer: My pleasure.
Cy Kellett: And we’re grateful to all you who listen or watch. And if you’re doing that right now, maybe you could give us that five-star review and a few nice words that helps to grow the podcast. If you’d like to communicate with us, you can always send us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org is our email address, focus catholic.com. We’d like ideas for future episodes. We like questions on past episodes or even complaints. It all helps. And we just like getting emails. So email@example.com is the place to go.
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