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Michelangelo's masterpiece on the ceiling of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel depicts a white-bearded God reaching out to give life to Adam. (AP Photo/Plinio Lepri)
So who is God the Father — and is he a father and is he a he?
Faith » Utah religious leaders share their views, but ultimately, priest says, the Almighty is a “mystery.”
First Published Jun 14 2012 02:00 pm • Last Updated Sep 11 2012 11:35 pm

Father’s Day is Sunday, so what do you get for the guy who created everything?

Apparently, the Almighty simply wants humans to emulate him, and there’s the rub. Who is he?

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Sure, many Christians and Jews pay homage to the "Father of Us All" as creator, protector, destroyer and lawgiver. They believe, as the Bible says, that humankind bears the image of the deity who rules heaven and Earth.

But does that mean God is male? Does he have a body? Parents? Children? Wife?

Some believers see the fatherhood imagery as purely metaphorical, pointing to a reality beyond human understanding. Others view it as literally true, a prototype of human potential.

"When we speak of God as father, we are using language that limps," says Monsignor Colin Bircumshaw, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City. "Hopefully, we take the best qualities of what we know of a father in human terms — someone who gives us life, nurtures us, loves and supports us — and apply it to God."

Such qualities, however, are inescapably anthropomorphic terms and inadequate to capture God’s essence.

"Philosophically, we believe God is beyond our human experience," Bircumshaw says. "Ultimately, God is mystery."

That hasn’t stopped individual believers — and whole religions — from describing, as best they can, the God they worship.

In the beginning » The Bible says God created humankind in his image — male and female.


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To Jews, that means God is a father who is profoundly connected to his children.

"We acknowledge God as the Father in Heaven, who has an intrinsic bond with every one of his children," says Rabbi Benny Zippel of Congregation Bais Menachem in Salt Lake City. "That relationship cannot ever be severed, no matter how strongly the human transgression."

When Moses came down from the mountain and found the Israelites worshipping a golden calf, God said he would annihilate them, Zippel recounts. "But Moses tells God this is not the Jewish nation. These are your children, and, as a Father in Heaven, you are going to forgive them for their wrongdoing."

Moses prevails, Zippel notes, and God essentially says, "Yeah, you were right.’ "

This biblical account shows a god who can be reasoned with, Zippel says, one who can be persuaded like, well, a dad.

Such a notion would be blasphemy to Muslims, says Imam Muhammed Mehtar, leader at the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City.

The Quran is clear, he says. God is not a father or any kind of human gender.

"God has no children and no parents," Mehtar says. "He is the one and only. There are none like him. He has been the same from time immemorial and will remain the same through time immemorial."

Even the term "God" implies a possible gender or progeny, the imam says, which is why Muslims prefer "Allah."

Suggesting Allah has something to do with human flesh would limit him, Mehtar says. "If I say God is a father, that gives a human form to him, and that would be a major sin."

Thus, there are no depictions of God in Islamic art, no statues or paintings of a man with a white beard or any other kind of artistic rendering.

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