King, Lord, Sovereign these are but a few of the masculine and imperial titles for God that raise the hackles on the back of some people’s necks in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
The issue of inclusive language continues to be a subject of debates and suggested policy statements. Inclusive language for people has become widely accepted in our denomination as it should be. But, the language we are to use for God is still a matter of dispute.
There is a packet of materials on inclusive language issues that is available through the PC(USA) entitled “’What We Say and What We Mean’ Workshop models and materials on language about God and the people of God.” It was published in 1991 by the Women’s Ministry Unit, and contains a letter written by then WMU Director, Mary Ann Lundy. You may remember that Ms. Lundy was removed from her position as Director of the Women’s Ministry Unit, among other reasons, because of her active involvement in the 1993 Re-Imagining Conference.
Aurelia T. Fule, formerly with the Theology and Worship unit, also writes one of the papers that are included in the packet. Her contribution is entitled, “Thinking About Language and God.” In it she says:
“If we are to seek what is God’s word to us today, in our setting, in the midst of our needs and problems, I am convinced we cannot do better than to move from the picture of an all powerful God. In prayer and meditation, we might in pulpit and pew, come to know God Almighty as God all vulnerable who is touched by our infirmities, inadequacies, and sin.”
Clearly, the world has changed since 1991. It has changed radically since September 11, 2001. This morning’s newspaper describes the world as being at “sixes and sevens.” We have all been jolted into a new reality. The world is in a state of disarray.
Certainly there is no longer any hiding the fact that evil exists, and that sin is a present reality in the best of us both institutionally and individually. So what does God’s Word say to us today? It’s the same word it spoke when the Heidelberg Catechism was written?
Question 1. What is your only comfort, in life and in death?
Answer 1. That I belong body and soul, in life and in death not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ, who at the cost of his own blood has fully paid for all my sins and has completely freed me from the dominion of the devil; that he protects me so well that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed that everything must fit his purpose for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”
And how is “our faithful Savior” described in the Bible? In Revelation 17:14, we find these words: “he is Lord of lords and King of kings.”
It seems to me that this is a particularly appropriate time to sit down and read The Revelation. It is a tract for hard times. Apocalyptic language was written to give the church hope as it lived through circumstances that appeared hopeless. And, the basis for that hope is the fact that God is all-powerful more powerful than any circumstance, any government, or any individual seeking to put himself or herself in his place. He is sovereign; he is commanding; he is in control. In the entire universe, not a single atom is beyond his providential governance. And for that reason, the Revelation contains hymns of praise to Almighty God will cause your spirit to soar.
Any attempt to neutralize or defuse our Lord’s majesty and power cuts directly across what he has chosen to reveal about himself. Yes, it is important to use all the metaphors and similes for God that are found in Scripture. In the metaphors, God reveals his names; in the similes, he reveals what he is like. But, even when one systematically uses all of God’s self-revealed names and descriptions, nowhere does one find him portrayed as “all vulnerable.” Nowhere is such a depiction alluded to or even hinted at.
Today, in too many places across our denomination, the language for God as King and Lord has been expunged from our liturgies and vocabularies. In its place are images and attributes of someone’s arrogant imagination.
It is time to return to the biblical witness. And as we do, I invite you to hear the triumphant choirs singing:
“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever. King of kings and Lord of lords. Hallelujah!”
“Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”