Saturday, March 29, 2014

Our Father, Who Art in Heaven

Father. Our Father. Father God.
It rolls off the tongue. So easy. So natural. So....well, true.
God is our Father. He made us. He nurtures us. He loves us.
But not for everyone.

I got a real eye-opener recently when I heard the story told by Scott Hahn* regarding the discussion/debate he had with a muslim cleric about God. Actually, Hahn didn't want to engage in the debate--he was convinced by his sister and brother-in-law because he was the only person they knew who was theologically educated well enough to even try and, well, the cleric wanted to. After all, it wasn't an opportunity that presented itself every day.

And, actually, it started out pretty well. They agreed about a lot of the attributes of God--His perfection, His majesty, His sovereignty, His might. They agreed about many of His works--His creation and sustenance of the world, His destruction of mankind through flood and their preservation through Noah,  His liberation of the Israelites through Abraham, and more. But the trouble started when Hahn first referred to God as 'Father'.

The first time Hahn called God Father, the cleric slammed his fist down on the table, shouting that he would not tolerate any more blasphemy. Blasphemy? wondered Hahn. For calling God 'Father'? Apparently. For a muslim, it is blasphemy to ascribe any human characteristic to God. God, to him, is not Father, nor is He a Son. He does not love with a Father's heart, and He does for forgive with it, either. 

Then what, Hahn asked, is God if not Father?
"Master," declared the cleric. "God is Master."

Master--as in slave master. Master--with complete authority but no obligation to affection. Master--owner and source of all sustenance, but with no need of mercy. Master--user, ruler, absolute commander. Worshiped and followed without question, unforgiving of failure, not hesitating to deservedly punish. God.

And that was the problem. God the Father loves. God the Master rules.

If this sounds unduly harsh, maybe we shouldn't be too surprised. We were warned of this. Sarah, Abraham's wife, made it obvious:
Get rid of the slavewoman and her son, for that slavewoman's son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.--Genesis 21:10

Ishmael and Isaac, both Abraham's sons, would not share the same inheritance. Ishmael would forever be a slave, but Isaac would inherit all of Abraham's riches--his herds, his wealth, the best of what Abraham had to give. Ishmael would never again know his father's love. And neither did the cleric, the spiritual descendant of Ishmael. God was not his father.
He never heard this--
So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.--Galatians 4:7

As Christians, we will never fully understand the yoke under which some people have to labor. God is, after all, our kind Father, who, when we stray, waits at the gate for us with open arms. He forgives. He has storehouses of blessings He is saving to shower down on us. He guards and protects and nurtures. He quite literally holds us in the palms of His hands. Not so for everyone, however.

The cleric eventually stormed out of the restaurant where he sat with Hahn, having warned Hahn for the third time that he was not to use terms like Father or Son in relation to God. He'd had enough. God was not, and would never be, his Father.

I admire the cleric for his clear understanding of God's exaltedness, but I have never had to associate God with harshness or with a supremacy that exercises itself without mercy. What terror would God bring without love? How would He use His infinite power? It scares me even to think about it. In the end, though, I am so glad for this perspective. It uncovers the real depth and privilege of the prayer that Christ, the Son of God Himself, gave us. It illustrates vividly the boldness and the favor with which we say,
Our Father, Who art in heaven, hallowed be thy Name...

*Allah or Abba, Lighthouse Catholic Media


  1. To deny that God is our merciful Father is actually unbelief. Fascinating insights here...thank you! Love & prayers, in Jesus, Cynthia

    1. It is unbelief, but really helps to drive home our privilege in understanding the Father heart of God. Sometimes, we are just in the right place at the right time. Thank you, Lord. And thank you, Cynthia, for your observations.

  2. What an eye-opener! I grieve for those whose faith is not informed of God's love.
    You are so right: "... this perspective... uncovers the real depth and privilege of the prayer that Christ, the Son of God Himself, gave us."

    1. It kind of startled me, too, and just this morning, I was reading about how the Pharisees had exactly the same objections when Jesus referred to His Father. It's a big deal.