Sunday, June 20, 2010
By Eric Von Salzen
As Christians we believe in a peculiar kind of God. The God we believe in not only created the heavens and the earth, but this God also loves us, each one of us, as a father loves a child. We have this on the authority of the Son of God himself.
It must have seemed quite remarkable to the followers of Jesus that he addressed God as his father, and even used the word Abba, which implied an intimate family relationship with God. But then, perhaps his followers said to each other, Jesus could say this because he was something special. Even before they began to realize who Jesus truly was, they thought he was at least a prophet, and perhaps even the Messiah, the Anointed One, someone with a really special relationship to God. The son of the Emperor in Rome might call Caesar “Daddy”.
But no, that wasn’t it. Jesus told them that God was their father, too, and they should address him the same way he did. That had to be shocking. The God who created the entire universe, the God who spoke from Mount Sinai in the thunder and lightning and smoke, the God who feeds the young lions and made leviathan for sport, the God that only Moses could talk to face to face, and even he not always – this God they were to call Daddy?
And what kind of father this God was! In what must be his most famous parable, Jesus described a father running to greet his returning prodigal son and throwing his arms around him. This is a father who casts aside his dignity for the love of his child. In our mind’s eye we see the old man running up the dusty road toward the distant figure of his son, his white hair streaming behind him, his robes flapping around his pumping legs, perhaps a lost sandal left behind in the dirt. Is this how we are to imagine the God who answered Job out of the whirlwind and told him how he made Behemoth and Leviathan? Is he that kind of father?
Yes, just that kind of father.
I know that there are some among us to whom the word father does not arouse warm and fuzzy feelings. Fathers are sometimes abusive, irresponsible, cruel, deadbeats, aloof, or absent. Jesus clearly didn’t have fathers like that in mind when he called God Daddy and said that we should, too. It was the earthly Jesus who said these things, before he died and rose again, and I can’t help but think that he was influenced by the example of his earthly father, Joseph. I have a warm spot in my heart for Joseph, because, like me, he was a stepfather. The scriptures don’t tell us much about the kind of father Joseph was, but we can infer that he was the kind of father Jesus wanted his followers to think of when he described God as their father. This kind of father.
I’m fortunate. I had that kind of father. I wish I’d had him longer – I was 33 when he died – but I knew what a father is supposed to be, thanks to him. Now, a generation later, I see my stepson being a father to his three wonderful little girls, and I learn again what a father is supposed to be.
Happy Father’s Day.