God led me on an interesting journey this morning on the relationship between God and man as Father and child. It began when I read “a Father to the Fatherless” in Psalm 68:5. I started to wonder why God chose to portray Himself as Father and the relevance of this to me as His child. Here are some things I discovered:
- The Hebrew word for father is used around 15 times in the Old Testament (not including the Apocrypha or Pseudepigrapha – though still extremely rare in these texts).
- The first time we find the term ‘father’ in Scripture is Deuteronomy 32:6, “Is He not your Father that has bought you? Has He not made you, and established you?”
There is a radical change between Old and New Testament.
- ‘Abba’ (Aramaic) was Jesus’ favourite term for God.
- When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He taught them to also call God ‘Abba’ (Luke 11:2)
- The Greek term for father, Pater, appears over 65 times in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) and over 100 times in the Gospel of John.
- The term ‘Abba’ was translated into the Greek ‘Pater’ in most of the New Testament. There are only three verses where the original Aramaic is kept: Mark 14:36, Rom. 8:15-16, and Gal. 4:6.
What does ‘Abba’ mean then?
- Father (Nave’s Topical Bible)
- A term expressing warm affection and childlike confidence. There is no perfect equivalent in English. (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)
- In the Jewish Rabbinical Tradition, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by this term. It is almost a proper name, in contrast to ‘father’ which is general. ‘Abba’ is a word framed by an infant’s unreasoning trust, whereas ‘father’ expresses intelligent apprehension of the relationship. (Vine’s expository Dictionary of NT Words).
What does this mean for us?
For Saint Paul, fatherhood was based on the redemption and reconciliation made available to us in Jesus Christ. We, who were once dead (Eph. 2:1) and slaves to sin (Rom. 6:20), are liberated through Jesus. In Jesus Christ, we are adopted into a new relationship with God in which we can likewise call Him Abba.
An ‘Abba relationship’ is one of unashamed intimacy, fulfilling love, total confidence in His Goodness and His plan, and a complete childlike dependence (Matt. 18:3). Calling God ‘our Abba’ is more personal than calling Him father. It is a relationship available to any of us, like that of a father and child but deeper still.
Many of us are not able to see God as Abba. We are still living like slaves forbidden to approach our master in such a raw and honest union. I can’t pinpoint the problem for each one of us but I believe it begins with our knowledge of Him, the effort we make to be still and hear His voice clearly, and our faith in His redemption and goodness.
Perhaps some do not want to associate God with fatherhood due to personal circumstances. We know that God is not human (Num. 23:19) and that He is Spirit (John 4:24), although His full nature is a mystery to us. He is neither male nor female. On the one hand, the reference to God as a father is to show us His supreme power and authority over the earth. But equally important, it is to attempt to reflect just a fraction of the perfect and mysterious parent/child relationship we are called to have with Him. Like I said before, it is even deeper than such a relationship because “when my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalm 27:10).
I pray that we can each come to believe in His real and everlasting Abbahood in our hearts. I pray that He removes every obstacle that exists within us, or that we may encounter outside of us, to having such a relationship with Him. Jesus gives us this relationship with His Abba, it is already ours to take – may we lay hold of it. I will leave you with one of my favourite verses:
“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.'” Jeremiah 31:3