About two weeks ago I was reading some ordinations papers from my students who are being considered for ministry. In most Protestant denominations, an ordination paper is the student’s demonstration that theologically and practically, she or he is ready to become a minister. Usually, the first part of the paper is theological, and the student writes about doctrine and what they believe about God or the Holy Trinity. We as Christians believe in one God revealed in three Persons – God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit – the Name forever blessed.
In two of the papers that I read, a part was missing – the student wrote about God, then wrote about God the Son, followed by God the Holy Spirit. There was a time when people would talk about God as the Parent, the Son as the Brother, and the Spirit as the Guide or Wisdom, but with the passing of time, it seems that God the Father or God the Parent has disappeared. The absence of God the Father sent me to the gospels to see how Jesus Christ handled this topic.
I will focus on three events – the teenage conversation between Jesus and His Mother, the expansion of the biological family of Jesus, and The Lord’s Prayer and High Priestly Prayer of Jesus. In the Gospel of Luke when Jesus stays in the Temple and Mary and Joseph have to return and find him, we read this passage: “His mother said to him: ‘Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.’ ‘Why were you searching for me,’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them.” (Luke 2:48-50)
When Jesus begins his ministry, the townspeople do not like what he says. They remind him that they know who he is. “‘Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simeon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?’…And they took offense at him.” (Mt.13:55-57)
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Even at the beginning of his teenage years, Jesus specifies between His heavenly Father and his earthly father and mother to whom Christ was given as a human baby. His heavenly Father is the Lord of the universe and He has chosen the Temple as a house of prayer, but He is aware that he still has to obey Mary and Joseph. He came to fulfill all the laws and the 5th commandment was to obey/honor the father and the mother.
By the time that Jesus starts his ministry in his thirties, we no longer hear anything about Joseph. The three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) have the story where the family came to take him home. Matthew records these words: “Someone told him, ‘Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ He replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples he said: ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven, is my brother, and sister and mother.’ (Mt. 12:46-50; also Mark 3:31-35, Luke 8:19-21) The precise language is important – the disciples are brothers and sisters and mothers, but they are not fathers. That position is reserved for his relationship with his heavenly Father.
Jesus extends the idea of having a heavenly Father to his disciples when he teaches them the Lord’s Prayer, which starts with the words “Our Father.” The relational singularity between Jesus and his Father is expanded as we also pray collectively to our Father. The Bible records that Jesus prayed other prayers as well. The longest one is known as the High Priestly Prayer and it is found in John 17:1-26. Jesus uses the word Father 5 times in this prayer and each one of them is filled with relational meaning:
17:1 – Father, the time has come. Glorify your son, that your son may glorify you.
17:5 – Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had before the world began.
17:21 – that all of them may be one, Father just as you are in me, and I am in you.
17:24 – Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory,
17:25 – Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you and they know that you have sent me.
Luke records the conclusion of the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ on the cross with these words: Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Luke 23:46)
It seems that some of my colleagues are willing to leave God the Father out of their theology and impoverish their relationship with the Triune God. In listening to their views, I find that certain words have become marginalized and dismissed by our contemporary society. About two weeks ago, the Biden administration’s 2022 budget replaced the word mother with birthing people, most newspapers write about partners instead of husbands or wives, and the word father has been eliminated from many places because of the negative connotation with patriarchy or “ruling over a family” like the Roman concept of pater familia. Words have been loaded with negativisms and then eliminated from use.
The word father is not only in the New Testament; we can find it in the Old Testament as well. In the last book of the Old Testament, the Prophet Malachi writes, “A son honors his father and a servant honors his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am master, where is the respect due me? says the Lord Almighty. It is your priests who despise my name.” (Malachi 1:6) That last part shook me. It is us in the church who are removing the word Father because we no longer like what it means—we no longer talk about the lordship of God or the fatherhood of God because both concepts imply submission, obedience, and respect, which our society is no longer willing to practice, even in our relationship with God.
I heard a pastor once preach that what he enjoys the most in Christianity are the invitations that Jesus Christ has given to us from the relationships that were strictly his. The first one is the well-known invitation to come and to pray the Lord’s Prayer. The second one is found in Hebrews, where we are invited before the throne of God because of what Jesus has done on the cross. “Let us, therefore, come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
The conclusion of the redemption story is found in 1 Corinthians 15:28: “When Christ has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him (the Father) who put everything under him, so that God will be all in all.” Until that time, I will continue to talk about the fatherhood of God in the assembly of the believers in the hope that I will learn how to be a better father from Him who is the perfect Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and through him, my father as well.