We Call Him “Father”

We Call Him “Father”

God does not want us to relate to him as a mere subject relates to a king, or as a mere sheep relates to its shepherd. Fundamentally, he wants us to relate to him as a child relates to a loving, generous father who loves to give good gifts when his children ask him (Matthew 7:7–11).

If you primarily think of God as your Father, and if you usually address God as Father when you pray, you have Jesus to thank. For prior to Jesus, no one — not in Judaism or in any other religious tradition — spoke of God or to God as Father in the personal ways Jesus did.

It’s true that Old Testament saints occasionally referred to God as Israel’s father (Deuteronomy 32:6Psalm 103:13) and even less occasionally called him their Father when they prayed (Isaiah 63:16). But the fact that they rarely did so reveals that they didn’t relate to God primarily as a Father. Certainly not in the way Jesus did — which was also the way he taught all his followers to relate to God.

“Abba, Father”

In all four Gospels, when Jesus speaks about God, he typically refers to him as his Father. And when the Gospel writers allow us to listen in on Jesus praying, we hear him addressing God as Father.

This wasn’t merely an endearing metaphor to Jesus. God as his Father was a fundamental relational reality to him. This is clear when, as we hear him pray in Gethsemane, he cries, “Abba, Father” (Mark 14:36). Abba was the most common term Aramaic speakers used when speaking to their earthly fathers — Jesus and his (half) siblings would have used it when addressing Joseph.

This familial way Jesus referred to God scandalized and outraged the Jewish leaders. They understood God as their Father the way a potter might be called the father of his clay creation (see Isaiah 64:8). But Jesus viewed God as his “Abba, Father” the way a child views the paternal parent who begot him. To the Jewish leaders, this led to blasphemy worthy of capital punishment, because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). Indeed, he was God’s own Son — a reality they tragically failed to discern.

And astoundingly, Jesus, the “only Son from the Father” (John 1:14), wanted all of his disciples, we who are not sons of God the way he is, to also relate to God as our “Abba, Father.” For when Jesus provided us a model or pattern for how to pray, what Christians down through the ages have called the Lord’s Prayer, the first thing he taught us was to address God as “our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9).

“Our Father in Heaven”

In quoting Jesus here, Matthew remarkably uses the Greek word pater, the equivalent to Abba in Aramaic — the common, everyday term that everyone used for father. Pause and ponder just how astounding the phrase “our Father in heaven” is, considering the reality it represents: God as our heavenly PaterAbbaFather.

Unless you were raised in a different religious tradition, addressing God as “our Father” probably doesn’t strike you as presumptuous or offensive. It probably sounds normal, something we take for granted, like calling our earthly paternal parent our father. If we have lost our wonder over calling God our Father, it’s time to recover it.

“Holy Father”

Keep in mind that observant Jews have always considered God’s covenant name, Yahweh (Exodus 3:14), to be so holy that they dare not speak it aloud. When they write it, they abbreviate it to YHWH, so as not to profane God’s holy name through unholy human lips or hands. Even in English, many will write “G–d” instead of “God.”

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