Ever notice that not once in the New Testament do we hear of Jesus arguing the existence of God? Obviously He knew to engage in a debate about it would waste precious time because truth and logic mean nothing to a committed atheist. We frequently say in Celebrate Recovery that the hardest thing to open is a closed mind and theirs is shut tighter than a submarine’s front door. They’ll refuse to be swayed from their unmoving opinion as they spout tautological nonsense like, “There’s no God because there is no God.” They’ll even turn their back on the scientific method that states unequivocally, “nothing can come from nothing.” Therefore most contests with atheists over the existence of God end up in a stalemate. They aren’t beyond redemption (no one is) but they do squander lots of energy chasing their tail. Agnostics? They’re a different breed altogether. They don’t know and, furthermore, don’t care enough to seek the truth. As I see it, a person either has a conviction regarding their Creator or they don’t. James S. Stewart wrote, “A living conviction is bred by two things, each of them higher and deeper than argument, namely, the direct action of God upon the soul – which is revelation – and the response of the soul to that divine initiative – which is faith.” Suitable adjectives for God evade me. Frederick Buechner quipped, “All-wise. All-powerful. All-loving. All-knowing. We bore to death both God and ourselves with our chatter. God cannot be expressed but only experienced.” The Bible, the soundest and sanest book ever, doesn’t start off with “Here’s proof God exists.” Rather it firmly avers without apology, “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1). Jesus considered God’s existence obvious. Thus it was a non-issue in His teachings. His central intent was to reveal to mankind who God is.
Two thousand years ago belief in some kind of God (or an assortment of odd Gods) was the norm amongst all peoples. Christ was a Jew, as were His hearers, so it only made sense for Him to go on the assumption His audience members believed in the singular God of Abraham – Jehovah. The Torah posits explicitly, “Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The “Is there a God?” thing being settled, Jesus was determined to fill in the blanks concerning what He’s like. His abbreviated description of God always came down to something along the lines of “Visualize the best Father in your grandest dreams you can imagine having. That’s God in a nutshell.” In the Gospel accounts alone the word “Father” occurs over 150 times. It’s in Christ’s first recorded utterance when He told His frazzled parents, “Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49), and in His last dying cry on the cross of “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). Thus for any Christian to think of God being anything other than a Father is to leave out His most important and endearing trait.
Understand Jesus wasn’t the first to refer to God that way. It’s there in the Old Testament scriptures where God’s often called the Father of His chosen race. The I AM instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh, “Israel is my son, my firstborn…” (Exodus 4:22). In the later writings we detect a deeper, more intimate characterization taking shape. David expressed, “He is a father to the fatherless…” (Psalm 68:5) and “As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on his faithful followers” (Psalm 103:13). Yet it was Jesus who brought the “Father” aspect of God to the forefront. Until He arrived on the scene there were a lot of “potter & clay” and “creator & creation” and “ruler & underlings” connotations getting tossed around but none of those allegories were penetrating into the heart of the matter. By placing our relationship to God in a familial scenario Christ was figuratively turning religious orthodoxy upside down. The idea that God loves us more than we can possibly love Him was downright revolutionary and the implications were immense.
So what does Jesus mean by proclaiming God our Heavenly Father? For one thing it indicates God’s extremely interested in what we decide to do with our lives; that, like a good parent, He’s concerned that we have sufficient food and shelter; that we’ll experience joy and contentment; that we’ll discover our purpose/reason for breathing oxygen. He wants us to have it all! Christ said, “Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11). Jesus was urging us to trust God without reservation like He consistently did. Check out the remarkable incident in Mark 4. The Master and His crew were crossing the Galilean Lake in a boat when a terrific storm blew in that freaked out even the most seasoned sailors aboard. Panic set in and they grew fearful they’d drown. But Christ? He would’ve slept through the whole event if they hadn’t shook Him awake. How was that possible? It’s because Jesus had unshakeable faith in His Father. Why? As Stewart wrote, “Because it was God’s sea, and the waves and the wind and the dark were in His Father’s hand, and underneath were the everlasting arms.” Christ never asks us to believe in a Father He doesn’t believe in Himself. That kind of trust leads to a Christian developing a sense of peace, poise and steadfastness no threatening situation can disrupt.
According to Jesus, God not only cares for humanity and is constantly concerned about its well-being, He knows and loves each individual soul. A conscientious father doesn’t love his family only as a communal group, he loves each of his offspring in particular. That’s how God feels about every one of us. While the oft-cited phrase, “For God so loved the world…” (John 3:16), rings as true as ever, it’s but one side of the coin. Christ assured us that “…there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10). No one’s a “nobody” to God. We see it in many of Jesus’ teachings. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep behind in order to find and retrieve the lost one that wandered away. Our Lord enjoyed the crowds that gathered around Him but He was ever on the lookout for the lonely man or woman on the periphery. In John 5 we read that, even though hundreds ringed the pool at Bethsaida, Jesus spotted and zeroed in on the one weakest, most desperately sick man who’d been waiting 38 years for a miracle healing. When Christ went into Nain accompanied by a large gaggle of followers in Luke 7 it was the one mother grieving for her recently-deceased son who caught His attention and garnered his life-restoring compassion. In Mark 5 we’re told that, despite a contingent of folks jostling to get near Him, the Master nonetheless noticed the one ailing woman who had the faith to somehow reach in and touch His robe. Some of the most encouraging words Jesus ever uttered were spoken directly to one lonely, disillusioned Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. And even though the paranoid Pharisee Nicodemus showed up late at night to talk with Christ our Savior took time to counsel him one-on-one. Saint Augustine got it right when he said, “God loves us every one as though there were but one of us to love.”
Since God’s our spiritual Father we don’t have to speculate about what our relationship to Him is. It’s to be viewed as being wholly informal. For centuries religions had been overladen with needless pomp and ceremony but Jesus came to put an end to all that vapid, mechanical posturing. Sincere reverence is one thing, mindlessly going through a rote pattern of prescribed motions another thing entirely. After Christ committed His spirit to His Father on Calvary the densely-woven curtain that hung in front of the “Holy of Holies” split apart from top to bottom, signifying that all people now have free, unrestricted access to God sans any structured formality being involved. Via prayer alone we can approach the great I AM like we would our Daddy. Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7). To reiterate, if your Poppa wasn’t at all like that, then simply imagine what it would’ve been like if he’d been the most generous Dad in history. That’s the Father you do have.
Another thing to contemplate is that if God’s our ultimate Father figure then any discomfort we encounter has a purpose. For eons primitive men and women (including some Old Testament characters) thought most suffering was an outcropping of God’s wrath brought on by their disallowed or disrespectful behaviors. While God’s administering to us “corrective measures” isn’t out of the question, it certainly ain’t His usual M.O. Christ insisted that God loves us and, as a wise father knows is beneficial to those He loves, there are times His kids’ll need to learn some lessons the hard way. Face it, genuine love requires doling out a modicum of discipline every so often. Paul wrote, “…He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Stewart wrote, “Why was He not spared? Because God had a purpose for Him, a great and glorious world-redeeming purpose; and the suffering was the road to it.” Pain always gets our attention and sometimes it’s the only thing that can. “Endure your suffering as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is there that a father does not discipline?” (Hebrews 12:7). I know broaching the subject of pain opens up a huge can of worms and I’ll deal with its slippery contents down the line. But for now it’s sufficient to say that since God’s our Father He takes no pleasure in seeing us contend with suffering. The parental expression, “This hurts me more than it hurts you” is no hollow cliché. “In all their affliction he was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9). Remember, when Jesus cried, it was God who was crying. He’s no stranger to pain.
Since God’s our Father the problem of sin and our need to be forgiven gets put in a different light. Sin becomes a more serious offense. If the power running the universe is merely a mighty-but-impersonal force we’re only guilty of breaking some kind of static law with our transgressions. But Christ taught that when we commit a sin we’re shooting piercing arrows into God’s loving heart – a divine heart desiring, more than anything else, to save us. Who among us wants to intentionally hurt or disappoint our earthly father when what we crave is his love-soaked admiration, acceptance and affection? As Jesus illustrated in His mind-blowing parable of the prodigal son, our Heavenly Father anxiously awaits our return to Him. Of that story Timothy Keller wrote, “In short, Jesus is redefining everything we thought we knew about connecting to God. He’s redefining sin, what it means to be lost, and what it means to be saved.” Because of the cross all our sins are forgiven if we’ll only turn away from pride’s leading and go back home. I’m a proud father of a grown daughter and son. They’ve made some mistakes. They’ve brought tears to my eyes. They’ve hurt my feelings. However, there’s nothing they could do that I wouldn’t be willing to forgive them for doing. I’ll always take them back. Keller added, “The message of the Bible is that the human race is a band of exiles trying to come home. The parable of the prodigal son is about every one of us. …Jesus came to bring the human race home.” It’s important to clarify that it’s only through belief in Christ we become eligible for adoption by our Father. That term may sound derogatory but it isn’t. J.I. Packer wrote, “Adoption, by its very nature, is an art of free kindness to the person adopted. If you become a father by adopting a son or daughter, you do so because you choose to, not because you are bound to.” It’s worth pondering.
The concept of God being our Heavenly Father is fine and dandy with most folks but some don’t like its implication – that, in a fashion, we’re all connected down here. Those who harbor in their hearts racism, discrimination, judgement and mean-spirited bias against others spend lots of hours looking for a loophole that’ll let them continue to hate. It doesn’t exist. As we Boomers sang in Sunday school, “Red and yellow, black and white/we’re all precious in His sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.” God’s not just the Creator Father of some. He’s Creator Father to us all. We exist solely because of Him and He’s no respecter of persons. Thus we’re not siblings of only those we opt to like and/or get along with. In a sense everybody is a sibling whether we agree with that common sense conclusion or not. When Christ implanted the “Father in heaven” idea in our collective psyche He was granting us a righteous and distinctively pure motive for becoming better people who yearn to live in a better world. It’s much more difficult to think badly of or become belligerent with say, a tired cashier at the grocery store, if you stop and acknowledge they’re a special creation of the same Heavenly Father who sent His only begotten Son to die for your sins. It’s harder to lash out if you remind yourself in your trigger-happy moment of frustration or impatience they’re truly your brother or sister.
If we honestly believe to our core what Jesus told us is true then we’ll never be able to put up with for a nanosecond any thought or notion we’re in any way, shape or form superior to another person. Any person. That’s why developing a heart, mind and outlook patterned after Christ’s is the only hope this angry, violence-addicted planet has of achieving harmony and peace among its inhabitants. Secularists always try to convince everyone who’ll listen they have all the answers; that God (whoever or whatever He, She or It is) is of no practical use. Yet civilization keeps sinking deeper into the quicksand of its own sinful nature. It’s time we come to the stark realization that mankind’s way doesn’t work worth a hoot. Our Heavenly Father knows best and we need to listen to Him. We are all His children, after all.