Session One – Developing Notion of the Father
Many Christians have difficulties with ‘the Father’ – easy to pray to Jesus – imaged, human etc. Father – remote, distant, ill-defined. Jesus is NT but Father is more OT and fierce etc. We can be content to stop with Jesus …
BUT … Jesus ‘is the visible image of the invisible God’ according to Paul.
Jesus is the Way to the Father, who comes solely to bring all to the Father.
Jesus comes only to do the Father’s Will, speak the Father’s Word.
Jesus wants us not so much to gaze at him, but to stand with him gazing upon the Father! If we want to be like Jesus, let us remember that Jesus is the product of the Father’s Love – and that the Holy Spirit is the Father’s Love poured into our hearts as it is poured into Jesus.
So why problems with the Father? Sometimes, because of our experience of fatherhood in our own lives. We pattern God after our own human experience, rather than allowing the Father to challenge, critique and heal our experience of Father. If our experience of ‘father’ was distant or absent – working away, long hours, never around, then talk of a constant, loving tender father always with me does not make sense. If our experience was of a stern, disciplinary, even harsh or cruel father then how can I recognise in God a loving tender ‘Abba’? Need for healing the wounded experience as well as developing our notion about God as Father.
Let us look briefly at how in the Bible the notion of God develops.
In a harsh primitive environment, where people are utterly dependent on the seasons, the soil, the hunt, the harvest for meagre existence, then God is seen as the One who controls these things and therefore has to appeased, so that I will be secure. My life depends on God being satisfied, and I sacrifice to this power God so that rain comes, the hunt succeeds etc. No personal relationship with this God – but a power that even capriciously has power over me.
Not until Abraham does this begin to change – Someone hears the unknown whisper within – and a God who is person as much as power is born! A relationship develops. But not so much a one-to-one as a family relationship. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is the God who makes himself known to this family, this tribe and is on their side against other families and tribes. Remember that this family is a group on the move, seeking a new home, new pastures, new beginnings.
With Joseph and then Moses the emergence of the Liberating and Saviour God, who struggles against the people’s enemies. The God who hears the pain of the pain of the oppressed. In the Exodus journey, a God who moulds this loose ‘rabble’ of liberated slaves into a cohesive people by the Gift of Law – the beginnings of the God of Law.
With Joshua and the conquering of the Promised Land, the Warrior God that dispossessing other nations and peoples – ethnic cleansing. Therefore their God dispossesses others in order to give to (make room for) this family. God is seen as relating to the group/people more than the individual.
Grdually this People become a nation – a nation in conflict! Their God becomes the National God, a Warrior for their people. He will fight their battles, but depends their obedience in return. Only a few selected people can talk to this God – the warrior leaders (Judges). As the charismatic leadership of the Judges is replaced by the establishment of Kingship (about 1000 BC), then God becomes King of Israel represented by the earthly but divinely anointed Kings), and later the priests in the sanctuary (and later again the Prophets). They do so on behalf of and for this Nation – the people cannot go direct themselves. God has become, The Great King, The Warrior Lord, the Law-giver, who binds them together, but not with love so much as a way of co-existing together tolerably with an allegiance. The National God, the Warrior King is also the God of Covenant.
Mutual relationship begins, though it is far from equal. The Covenant is between a superior and an inferior. You obey me, I will look after you – you disobey me, I will punish you! And still this God is one among many, but is the national God.
It is not until the Prophets around the time of Isaiah (740 BC) that anything like an interior or personal relationship comes. It coincides with the emergence of belief in One God only (first in Persia and Egypt) – all other gods are unreal, idols. Therefore hints at the Universal Love of God flowing from One God of all the World, that one day all Peoples will be the People of God.
But even then – with Hosea, Jeremiah and Isaiah – it is essentially a God who relates to the People of God rather than to an individual. But the external of legal observance is shifting towards awareness of inner precepts of Love and Mercy and Justice. Not just and question of doing what the Law says, but also what I know to be right within. Moving towards the days when the Law will be written in the heart.
This process of interiorisation escalates with the Exile – separated from Temple and Land – an awareness of a God who goes into Exile with them, stays loyal to them even though they are disloyal. They cannot offer Temple sacrifice, but they can offer the ‘sacrifice of a contrite heart’. Personal responsibility and personal relationship now growing.
Yet in the post-exilic period legalism grows ever stronger. And with Macabbean Wars, God is again a Warrior God, demanding strict adherence to Law and punishing terribly disobedience.
With Jesus, something radically new is born. Here is one who knows God, from within. Baptism in the Jordan crucial. He plumbs the depth of a profoundly personal God, who is at the same time a Universal God. He has a new name – ‘Abba!’ He is Abba to anyone who opens their heart and life – not family, not tribe, not nation. Not fear of punishment but experience of Love. Law is not so important, but the demands of Love from heart is. Legalism has no place any longer. A God who transcends national and racial boundaries – a God who enters deep into the heart through the Holy Spirit. For Jesus, God is a tender ABBA, a deep lover, one who heals and liberates, one who enters the dialogue of the heart, and makes every single heart his sanctuary.
Jesus presents us with a living face of a radically different God – Abba. Because he experiences a different fathering. He is a free man, set free by a God who is Abba, lover, freedom. No longer about obedience under fear of punishment – but a communion of heart in the spirit which means we walk together.
Instead of constructing our image of the Father out of the debris of our own wounded experience of fathering, let us allow the true Father that Jesus brings us to heal these wounds and rebuild the Father for us. Let us not be afraid to be embraced by Abba, and to stand with Jesus and gaze together upon this unsurpassable Love.