The Archbishop of Canterbury has weighed in on the debate over God's gender by saying He is neither male nor female.
The Most Reverend Justin Welby said descriptions of God were 'to some degree metaphorical' and that His characterisation as 'Father' could not be understood in exactly the same way as an earthly father.
The Archbishop made the comments during a conversation on encountering God at St-Martins-in-the-Fields Church in London last week.
Speaking to the church's vicar, the Rev Dr Sam Wells, the Archbishop said: 'It is extraordinarily important as Christians that we remember that the definitive revelation of who God is was not in words, but in the word of God who we call Jesus Christ. We can't pin God down.'
He added: 'God is not a father in exactly the same way as a human being is a father. God is not male or female. God is not definable.'
When a member of the audience asked what it meant to him to call God 'Father', he said he understood it to express the unconditional love and companionship of God through life.
'So, what does it mean for me to call God father, having had a rather confusing experience of fathers? It means that here is one that is perfect, that loves me unconditionally, that reaches out to me and knows me better than I know myself and yet still loves me profoundly,' he said.
'That loves me enough to make redemption and blessing possible and open. That offers me a way through life that can be very complicated and painful, and can be overwhelming and wonderful, but is always father... is always the one who in love embraces, draws, heals, blesses and will eventually call me to be present to God.'
The debate in the Church of England over the gender of God was reignited recently when its first female diocesan bishop, the Rt Rev Rachel Treweek, said ministers should avoid referring to God in exclusively male terms and be 'mindful of our language'.
'I don't want young girls or young boys to hear us constantly refer to God as he,' she said.