I remember, in one of my first years of teaching confirmation 2, preparing a lesson plan on the new morality of the New Testament. I arrived at the passage of the “Great Commandment”:
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]38 This is the first and greatest commandment.39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Matthew 22:36-40 (NIV)
I was still young in faith at the time (and barely much older now) and I had never before reconciled why Jesus just pretty much re-wrote the ten commandments. I always thought “Old Testament God: Vengeful. Just. Righteous. New Testament God: Mercy, Love, Forgiveness.” We believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. This would be one of the first times that I realized God has always been “father” in the Old Testament, just as much as He is in the New Testament. This is what I shared with my students.
When you were growing up, how did your parents teach you to protect yourself? Did they explain how a car exhibits mass, force, and acceleration? Did they explain to you how electricity affects the human body when it passes through it? Have you ever tried to explain gravity to a child? The rules that were given to you were very simple. Simple to remember, and simple to obey. “Don’t cross the street.” “Don’t put your finger in the electrical outlet.” “Stop jumping off the couch.” All of these things were meant to protect us from a physical reality. Likewise the newborn nation of Israel needed a set of laws to protect them from a spiritual reality (and death as well). The wages of sin is death. God was guiding and teaching his children for their protection. When Jesus came and gave them the greatest commandments, he didn’t re-write the ten commandments. They were fulfilled in this teaching. Do these two things, and the rest will follow.
I’ve been listening to a talk by Dr. Scott Hanh about the Our Father prayer that’s really given me a new-found appreciation for our relationship with God. There is a lot to share but I’ll just talk about the first two words of the prayer. It’s easy to overlook just how radical these words must have sounded to jews of the time. In the Old Testament God is referred to as “father” 13 times. In the New Testament, Jesus refers to God as his father over 150 times. 30 times he speaks of God being our father. It’s a perspective that until this point probably hasn’t been too emphasized, but it’s the perspective that I think provides the greatest insight into God’s relationship with us, even from the beginning of time.
As a Catholic calling God “father” is something that has just always been second nature to me. We are the redeemed children. I’ve never given it a second thought. But God’s fatherhood is unique to Christianity, something that I take for granted. If you were to refer to God as “father” to our Muslim brothers, you’d most certainly risk offending them. Fatherhood is human, not divine. God is not “father”, Allah is “master”. In fact Jesus isn’t even considered the son of God. God is not a father. He has no sons. That’s blasphemous. Islam is a religion of divine slavery. Islam itself is a word that literally means “submission”. a Muslim scholar once told Dr. Hanh, God does not love us like a father. This is something I cannot fathom, and I may never will. After hearing of this from Dr. Hanh I have an entirely new appreciation for this privilege that we have to call God our father.
If God is our father, it sheds some light on exactly where we are relative to God. Our father is in heaven, and we are not. We are not home. We are journeying to home. It’s a long journey, and many of us will take the long way. God willing, we’ll all make it. By the grace of God we have to help those that we fear may not. That’s another topic. But for today, let’s just remember that God is our father. God is our judge, our lawgiver, and our Lord. His justice is fatherly. His laws are fatherly. His love and reign is fatherly. God is ‘father’.