“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9).
The New Testament uses several titles and names for God, and in the next few weeks I will be writing on a different title and what it tells us about God. Today, the first title I want to endeavor to explain is “Father.”
This title comes from the Greek Pater which expresses relationship, the correlative being “son.” When this word is used of humans it typically refers to parentage, but in Scripture, is sometimes used in the broader sense to mean “ancestor,” “founder,” or a “senior” such as in 1 John 2:13-14. It is further used to refer to an author or a source of something such as in John 8:44 and Hebrews 12:9, or further to express a spiritual relationship as in 1 Corinthians 4:15 in which Paul describes himself as a father to the believers at Corinth.
Yet, what does it mean when the Bible says that God is a Father? Why did the Lord Jesus while instructing the disciples on prayer, teach them to call God “Father”? (Matthew 6:9).
First, to call God “Father” expresses His nature – He is a Father. This is not a metaphor. Yet this nature of His as a Father is not a result of human fatherhood. Rather, the concept of human fatherhood is a reflection of God’s Fatherhood. We must be careful not to allegorize or spiritualize away this description – He is not merely like a father, but He is a Father.
There is a movement in many theological circles, Bible translations, and churches to remove the idea of God as a Father. Numerous college professors of religion across the United States now alternate the pronouns “he” and “she” when referring to God, and pray instead “Our Parent who art in heaven.” In the New York Times bestselling book “The Shack,” God is described as a woman as is the Holy Spirit also.
Of course, those who use such terminology to define God claim that according to “traditional language,” God is made to value males more than females. According to Mary Daly, “A number of theologians warn that language shapes reality and unless the church changes its imagery, it will effectively endorse gender and race bias.”
Consequently, those who subscribe to this line of thinking further claim that “The way to respect the original words is to retranslate them, as our understanding of their meaning changes.” Yet, the problem with this perspective to the scriptures is that it no longer matters what God actually has said about anything. If something is found to be offensive to anyone, they can simply change it to reflect what they understand it to mean. God’s Word becomes a subjective mass of obscure sayings rather than the objective plan of God for each person’s life.
It was the Lord Jesus Himself Who commanded us to pray “our Father.” Yet, what is inherently wrong with calling God “Mother” or “Parent”? Or what is inherently wrong with referring to God as “she”? The simple fact that He is not a mother, and not merely a parent; He is a Father. So, how is a father different from a mother?
It may be beneficial to consider the relationship between the Lord Jesus and His church. In Ephesians 5, Paul describes the relationship between a man and his wife as a portrait of Christ and the church. The entire context is one of equality, the two becoming “one flesh” (Eph. 5:31), but the man is described as the Head and the woman as the body just as Christ is the Head of His body the church (Vv. 23-24). It is important that God is viewed as “our Father” because such reflects our relationship to Him. He is characteristically a Father “Who loved the church and gave Himself for it” (Eph. 5:25).
Paul then states in Romans 8:14-15, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. For ye have not received the bondage again to fear; but ye have received the Spirit of Sonship, whereby we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” The word “sonship” in this passage is often translated “adoption,” yet the word is better translated “sonship,” coming from huios which means “son.”
Some have likened this verse to refer to the adoption of slaves by their masters, yet such persons were never allowed to use the word “Abba,” which is used exclusively by those begotten from the loins of the father himself. An adopted child may receive all the privileges of the family, but he or she is still not born into the family. We see this even in our own society in which adopted children often call their adoptive fathers by their first names rather than the more affectionate “Dad.” The subjects of this passage are actually begotten of the Spirit (John 3:6) and have become full sons of God by spiritual generation, enabling them to cry Abba, Father. This is a miracle that only God can do, to not only adopt us, but transform us into His actual children by His Spirit.
While many mothers today share the responsibility with their husbands of providing for their children, the father is the one whom God holds accountable for the provision and care of the family. In fact, the blessed Apostle told his young pastor-in-training, “But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel” (1 Timothy 5:8). When a person is born again into God’s family upon belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ, God takes up the sole responsibility as “our Father” to both provide for and nurture His new child. There is nothing the believer can do to earn the Lord’s provision and care. Just as God lays the responsibility for a family on the father, so He too takes the full responsibility for His Family.