“Our Father in Heaven”
Tuesday, 15 September 2020
“Father” (Luke 11:2)
As we address God by a name, it is worth noting what we are not doing.
We are not anthropomorphising God. By that I mean we are not reducing God to a human category. God is not a man, or even (if you are into Greek philosophy) the perfect form of the category ‘man’. God is not a man. God is not an object or thing. Nor are we naming God as a means of control, in the sense that in many cultures, people believed that to know the name of a spirit or god meant having some magical control over it.
We can dispel this by remembering the story of Moses’ encounter with God in the Book of Exodus. When asked his name, God replies “I Am Who I Am.” Some say it can be rendered “I Will Be Who I Will Be.” It’s a polite way of saying “Mind your own business!”
Of course, for many, the very name ‘Father’ is a problem. We may project our issues with fathers or father figures onto God. Not all these are good or healthy – abusive, absent, distant or just ineffectual fathers are not uncommon in human experience. And we should be careful lest we imagine that God is male and, as many feminist thinkers have reminded us, that if God is male, the male is God. Sadly this patriarchal mindset is all too common in Christian and other traditions.
So what did Jesus mean when he called God ‘Father’? In Aramaic, one of the languages Jesus spoke in first-century Palestine, the word he probably used was ‘Abba’. This term goes beyond a clinical kind of definition of father as procreator, parent, source of life or even creator of the universe. It’s an expression of love – ‘daddy’ might be its closest English translation.The prayer then tells us how we should address God. Not just Creator, not just Source or Ground of Being, but one who loves us and is eminently lovable. God is, above all, loving, seeking our good, encouraging us to do our best.
God is our most loving parent, however we name him – or her!