“Our Father Who art in Heaven….”
Excerpt from The Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6: 9-13
For those who are fans of Mama Mia¸ I don’t want to disappoint, but I’m not suggesting we make a special day to celebrate the Swedish band by having a “Happy ABBA day,” as talented as they were.
Instead I am suggesting that while we are celebrating Father’s Day – a special day set aside for our earthly dad (abba), we might want to be mindful of, and grateful to God, as our Heavenly Father (Abba). This is especially true if we have enjoyed the presence of a dad who loved, taught, mentored and played sports with us.
In that same spirit of appreciation, given we have been blessed with life, love, and the ability to do things, we might want to take a moment to remember our Heavenly Father with a thankful heart. And be mindful to take time for both our earthly and Heavenly fathers. Each relationship is special.
To be sure, there are all sorts of fathers. There are biological ones, who contributed some genetic material to help build us. There are also ‘hands on’ fathers – the loving dad, who had a lot to give, and recognized children needed something more than just DNA. Then there are the father figures in our lives who just seem to come along at the right time to fill a void, or provide some guidance.
Some of these “fathers” are one in the same person. Certainly mine was.
And sometimes we go through parts of our lives without a dad. Never easy, whether you never knew your dad, did not have the best relationship with your father, or lost him early in childhood.
Regardless whether or not we have had a relationship with our earthly fathers, our lives have been gifted, groomed, and established by the One we all can now claim as “Father” through Jesus Christ.
Moreover we are blessed to have our “Abba” as near as our inner being, again through the sacrifice of our Savior, in the Presence of the Holy Spirit – God indwelling within each of us. Speak about an ever present Father!
But the very notion of God as “Our Father,” that Jesus presented to His Disciples, and followers, this was a radical idea for first century Judaism.
If one reads the Torah, Midrash, Rabbinic text, such as Pesikta d’Rav Kahana, and other sacred Jewish texts, there will not be a lot of reference to God as a “Father.” So while the Old Testament does not necessarily portray God as a distant diety remote from His children or the day to day events of what He created, the familial bond Jesus ascribed to God as His, as our Father, well that was a powerful notion for the era.
Jews traditionally named, referenced God based upon the role He was taking in their life at that moment, or what they needed Him to take on, based upon challenges, and circumstances.
For example – Yahweh Rophika – the God who heals, or Elah avahati – God of our fathers, or Elah Yerusalem – the God of Jerusalem, Elah Elahin – God of gods, and so forth. Some blessings reference God this way – Baruch Hashem. But whether God is Yahweh, Elohim, or Hashem, or other name, the Aramaic for “father” – “Abba,” is not typically among them.
In the book Created to be God’s Fried; How God shapes those He loves written by Henry T. Blackaby, the author lists a significant number of characteristics attributed to God, especially in His relationship with Abraham, the one person in the Bible distinguished by a unique nickname – God’s Friend. God revealed Himself as a God who calls, protects, guides, shields, is faithful, Who sees and hears, intervenes, comforts, knows the future, and so on. But interestingly “Father” is not one of the descriptors listed in the book, which is largely based on Torah, and other sacred, scholarly texts.
The same is true with Rabbi David Lyon in his book God of me – Imagining God throughout your lifetime.
Then Jesus comes along and, for example in Mark 14: 36 calls out to God using the personal term for ones father – “Abba.”
Clearly as Christians, we recognize the ability to do so was His birthright. But what about the rest of us - we did not have God as our father. Or did we?
As Jesus went along in His ministry, He made it a point to underscore God was His Father, and ours, too!
Yet it would have been highly uncharacteristic for a Jew to use the term, to refer to God as “Abba”….”Father.”
Yes Jesus was trying to convey to His followers that in fact He is the Son of God – literally, and functionally. But it went beyond that.
As Christians, we recognize the reason Jesus came in human form, allowed Himself to be crucified, was to take on our collective sins and allow God to give us a clean slate. But it goes beyond giving us a fresh start. Jesus did this so we could reconcile with the Almighty, and build a direct, personal relationship with our Creator. No more need for an intercessor, or blood sacrifice, or other rituals of old.
Jesus was and is the bridge between God and us – reminding you and me that not only is the Almighty Jesus’ Father, an all powerful Deity, but is in fact far more than the One directly connected to His Son. That in fact God is a ‘hands on’ Creator Who has, since the time of Job, tried to build a relationship with His somewhat wayward children.
To confirm that in our minds, Jesus exhorts us – His followers and posterity – to think of God in a way that encourages personal relationship as part of the worship experience with the Almighty. Which is to say, as our “Abba, Father,” too.
The concept of God the Father, our Father is not something that most Jews in the era would have grasped. When Jesus first used the term it could have been interpreted as blasphemy.
Some Aramaic interpretations of the use of Abba suggest it was a term of respect for a senior elder, Rabbi or mentor in one’s life. Some scholars debate the intimacy of Abba as a paternal moniker.
As such, we can debate linguistics, and this has been the case among Biblical interpretations since the first scrolls were discovered. Were it not so, the Catholics and Protestants would not have different forms of text referred to as “Bible.”
Even today New Testament scholars debate the Aramaic term that Jesus used at times to reference God.
Why should Christians be any different than Jews, who for millennia have debated the translations and significance of various texts, and word choices in the Torah, Talmud, and other scholarly/religious documents?
All these notwithstanding, what Jesus was likely doing in using a term highly reserved for very special circumstances was to invite us into a more personal relationship with God.
Were it not so, why did Jesus use the Aramaic term “Abwun” or “Abwoon” which is considered a derivative of Abba, to refer to God as “Father” in the beginning of The Lord’s Prayer?
In fact, the term “Father” to describe the Almighty is used sparingly in the Old Testament, and when used usually in reference to God as Father of the nation, God of Israel. “God” and references to Him are usually very formal, with few exceptions, conveying a special, unique relationship between one of God’s chosen. Abraham known as “God’s Friend,” and then there was David, “a man after God’s heart.”
To be sure there were many favored by God among the Israelites and Jews, but precious few held such close relationships that they were repeatedly visited by, and consider to hold a special place in relationship with God.
That all changed with Jesus! But it took lots of years before God’s Son would appear.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but this is an important contrast God as “Father” used sparingly in what we Christians refer to as the Old Testament, compared to how Jesus references God in the New Testament. It goes beyond style, or culture, or event context – facing crucifixion in the Garden of Gethsemane for example.
Jesus wanted us to become emotionally, spiritually, intellectually connected to God. And He risked it all so that we could consider God as more than a remote deity, an all powerful being that may or may not care about our daily circumstances.
Jesus made it patently clear in all His teachings that God is familiar with us in very personal ways – from the clothes on our back, to the hairs on our head. Not unlike the ubiquitous concerns earthly fathers have for their children, too.
As we celebrate Father’s Day, let us cherish the presence or memory of the person or persons who filled the role of earthly dad in our daily lives, and spend the time to regularly reinforce that precious relationship, never taking it for granted, or forgetting that life is precious, and may be short, too. Father’s are special – whether earthly or Heavenly!
And on this day and all days, let us be mindful of our Heavenly Father. He, too, wants a relationship with His children. Like all fathers, God wants to hear from us, too!
All relationships require effort, as well as love. While we all know we can do better in fulfilling our commitments to those we care about, we make mistakes. Days turn easily into weeks without that all important call, or connection. To go cliché – no time like the present to renew relationships – earthly and Heavenly ones!
Our lives have been gifted by the One we all can now claim as “Father” through Jesus Christ. So perhaps today can be a day for us to reaffirm our commitment to building a stronger relationship with God, our Father. And the best gift we can give Him is the same that our earthly dads want – our time, and love.
Happy Father’s Day, and God bless.