Friday, January 15, 2010

The Father: Begat, and Be Good!

The creeds began with the phrase; I believe in God, the Father. These days, many people have a big problem with using the word “father” in reference to God. They may understand that God is our “source of being” or “ultimate authority.” It’s just that the word “father” leaves them cold.

Obviously, their problem with the word “father” is usually due to some bad experience they have had with someone called father. Many people have been beaten, abandoned or even raped by fathers. It is extremely difficult for a person who has had such an experience to love and respect a God who is addressed by that title. For far too many people, the word “father” is a harsh and angry sounding word.

The problem with calling God, “Father” is not new. The people who heard Jesus had difficulty with it too, though for entirely different reasons. As a rule, before Jesus, religious people had usually addressed God only in reverential terms of awe. In fact, they often showed so much reverence for God that He seemed far away from everyday life. The word that Jesus actually used, Abba, meant something like “Daddy.” It sounded too tender, too gentle. It still sounds a bit jarring, even though we now tend to err in the opposite direction than those ancient Jews, away from reverence and awe and toward familiarity and even contempt.

Jesus came to reveal to us God's real nature. He deliberately chose His favorite title for God to teach us an important reason. Calling God “Father” thus teaches us something Jesus considered vital about how we should view God.

The Church Fathers must have believed this too.

The Apostles’ Creed begins with, "I believe in God the Father Almighty."

We can see then that the creed calls God Father even before it calls Him Creator. There must be a reason for this.

If we are to understand God as He wishes to be understood, then evidently we need to acknowledge Him as “Father.”

Still, we must be careful when we use the word “father.” God may not be a father as we imagine when we hear the word. Jesus calls God, “Father,” so Father He is. However we need to realize that God is a Father as He defines the word, not necessarily as we define it.

On this date in 1535, King Henry V111 declared himself the head of the English Church. He had been a faithful son of the Roman Church but then wanted to divorce and marry again, then do that again, and then do that yet again. The Pope had to draw the line somewhere. Henry wanted to annul his marriage to Queen Katherine after twenty years. He claimed to have a sudden "aha!" of conscience about marrying his late brother's wife, and blamed this oversight for his lack of legitimate male heirs. As always, there was much more going on than just these facts. But Henry wanted to marry Anne Boleyn, and needed Katherine out of the way. The pope said “no”.

Kings don’t like to be told “no” by anyone, including popes, and so he declared the churches of England free of papal control, and, for good measure, added that he would now head the church himself.

It’s a real historical problem for those of us with roots in English Christianity, since our Reformation was not as clean and clear cut as was the reformation on the continent. This is not the place to go into that, except to say that the king was merely moving the population where the people wanted to go anyway – out of the Roman orbit. Like many good politicians, he used the popular mood as an excuse to get what he wanted.

The issue for this blog is “fatherhood.” What does spiritual fathering look like? It certainly doesn’t look like religious bullying or political posturing. It looks like God, who comes to us like a shepherd of a flock. He’s not a jolly granddad up in heaven, laughing at all our silly sins – I mean he can get rough if he has to do so. What he really wants though, is relationship. He wants to grow us, mature us, defend us, and care for us.

God is the source of all existence. Thomas Aquinas used the phrase “fountain of existence.” I love that. I imagine a cosmic hole spewing out comets and kangaroos, rainbows and rhinoceroses (why isn’t it rhinoceri?) God not only created everything, the existence of all things continually depends upon Him. If He decides, the entire universe can disappear, not with a bang but without so much as a whimper.

Just poof!

God’s Fatherhood has to do with origin and source. Even the Godhead has its source in “God, the Father Almighty.” Fatherhood is what comes first.

We owe reverence to God for our existence.

We also owe reverence to our earthly fathers for our existence. Some of them try to deserve that reverence and some do not. That is the main point of the Book of Genesis, what we are reading right now in our church: Fathers do not just begat and then begone. They sustain, comfort, teach, train, defend, love, care for, mentor and grow up their offspring.

When we worship God as “Father,” we are learning how to parent as we as how to honor our own parents. That makes it possible to transmit covenant, civilization and culture form one generation to the next. So there’s a lot riding on this concept.

Oh, and if you want to know how to be a father, spiritual or otherwise, just look at Henry VIII.

Then, do the opposite.


Anonymous said...

I love the ending! Great info and fun ending.

ShannanParker said...

"Like many good politicians, he used the popular mood as an excuse to get what he wanted."
~How often we do this in our own personal "political" realm. This is a powerful thought to consider in any decision/action we make.

"What he really wants though, is relationship. He wants to grow us, mature us, defend us, and care for us."
~Thank you for writing this blog, many need to hear this. At the age of 15 I sat in church as my pastor said these words, "If you have not had a good example of an earthly father, it's very hard for you to know and accept your Heavenly Father." He went on to explain the word association of, "Father" and tried his best to draw a picture of the perfect daddy. I realized that day my thinking had to change. I love my dad. I see, and admire the stand he takes when he believes in something, but I was fully aware as a child he did not want a personal relationship with us. As time has passed and I choose to put on my adult classes, I see he just didn't know how.

"If He decides, the entire universe can disappear, not with a bang but without so much as a whimper.

Just poof!" ~powerful!