Think about your father – dead or alive – or imagine him if you never knew him. What feeling does it evoke in you? What word(s) comes to mind?
Last Sunday, 9 June, was Pentecost in the Christian calendar: to celebrate the coming of God’s Spirit. Fifty days earlier was Passover, to remember Jesus The Lamb of God – God’s Son – who led a new Exodus out of the slavery of sin and death into the Kingdom of God. This Sunday, 16 June, is the Feast of the Trinity to celebrate the mystery of God as Trinity – The Eternal Community – with special focus on The Father. And this Sunday is also Father’s Day, to remember and celebrate our fathers. There is an intrinsic link between the two, our heavenly Father and earthly fatherhood.
Paul prays in Ephesians 3:14-21, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith… being rooted and established in love… “
“The reason” for Paul’s kneeling before God the Father is the astonishing vision of the plan and execution of salvation that he describes from chapters 1 to 3. It is a vision of full Trinitarian participation, as in the reference in the above text to the Father, Son and Spirit.
Paul, a Jewish monotheist rabbi, had a phrase to communicate his revised Messianic view of God: “God our Father and the Lord Jesus… the God and Father of our Lord Jesus” (Ephesians 1:2,3). God is both Father and Jesus – and Spirit. We know God as the Father through the Son, Messiah Jesus, by the Spirit. Jesus came to reveal God: we know God as Father in relation to the Son. In other words, to know Jesus in his earthly and historical relationship to God as (his) Father, by the Spirit, is to know God The Father. The way the Father and Son love and relate reveal who they are. The Trinity is a beautiful mystery of Three Persons in the most intimate relational life of love that we can ever imagine, so much so that They are one nature and substance. And the essence of that reality is LOVE.
“I kneel before the Pater, from whom all patria derives its name”: Pater (God the Father) defines patria (family, more accurately, fatherhood). “Derives its name” means that fatherhood and thus family derives its nature and character from God’s Fatherhood – the fountain of all reality within the Trinity and in creation. The question is: where do we derive the nature and character of human fathering? For Paul, God’s fatherhood is the standard AND the source of all earthly fathering. It is not only the measure but also the means of all fatherhood and family in heaven and on earth. This is profound. It has serious implications.
The meaning of ‘Father’ in relation to God is human language to describe a Self-revealing Mystery we call God. Though inadequate, it’s a category we can relate to, a shadow of the glorious Reality of which it speaks. The Biblical revelation of God as Father was a polemic against the matriarchal gods and cultures of the Ancient Near East – a theological word for the Jewish experience of the Self-revealing Creator-God. Thus ‘Father’ does NOT mean God is a man. It speaks of God’s characteristics of fathering, and of mothering (Hebrew Ruach, God’s Spirit, is a feminine noun; there are many feminine images of God as mother, nurturer and comforter in the Hebrew Testament). God has masculine and feminine traits – and infinitely more characteristics – seen in his human image as male and female. Thus we can say that, in terms of God’s nature and character in relation to the Trinity and creation, God is experienced as a Father who is also a Mother.
We experience the Father, Paul says, through the Son, Messiah Jesus, who “dwells in our hearts by faith”, through “the power of his Spirit in our inner being”, who transforms us from inside out into the Father’s nature and character. Then we live a life of LOVE: “being rooted and established in (the) LOVE” of the Father and Son by the Spirit.
What does this mean for Father’s Day, for earthly fathers? My answer:
- Uphold a high vision of fatherhood and culture of fathering as in the Biblical revelation of God as Father. Earthly fathers (and mothers) are enabled by The Father, through the Son by the Spirit, to live the following characteristics (among others)
A Compassionate and Protective Father: Psalm 68:5-6
A Welcoming, Forgiving and Celebrating Father: Luke 15:20-24
A Loving and Disciplining Father: Hebrews 12:5-11
A Generous and Good Father: James 1:17, Luke 11:9-13
A Blessing and Providing Father: Ephesians 1:3f, Matthew 6:26 (vv.25-34)
- Give thanks to God for our earthly fathers, though they fall short of God’s standard in their sinfulness and broken masculinity.
- Forgive our fathers for their failures – even their abdication and abandonment, their abusive fathering and toxic masculinity – because God forgives us of our sin. And God forgives them, and God heals us of our deepest hurts.
- Celebrate the good we find in our fathers. Think about the good things, that which is a reflection of God our Father, no matter how faint it may be.
- Pray for, bless and honor our fathers (and mothers). They need us more than we realize. Let us obey God’s first commandment that came with a promise: “honor your father and mother so that you may live long…”
- Seek for and connect to our fathers. The unfinished business of manhood (and daughterhood) is to seek our fathers, to not only make peace, but to love and relate.
- Receive God’s re-fathering of us. God is our real and true Father – much more than we realize! Jesus taught us to relate and pray to God as our “Abba”, Daddy. God is a Father to us in a way that our fathers are/were unable to be, in all their needs and limitations. We can receive God’s personal re-fathering and healing love for our growth to wholeness.
Happy Father’s Day!