Where do we start when it comes to speaking with our God? Well, in a startling divergence from what had been done before, Jesus teaches His disciples to begin prayerful conversation with God by addressing Him as ‘Our Father’ and in that, He used the word abba. This was really only used within the context of family by a child to parent or occasionally as a respectful, honorific title used by an adult to a rabbi.
Until that point, even though God was recognised as the Father of the Jewish nation and as its covenantal Redeemer, it was simply unheard of, to address God in such a personal and intimate way with such a familiar family name. The Hebrews took great pains to try to avoid even using the name of God due to its sheer holiness so abba, with all its inherent familiarity, had never been considered as a form of address to the Almighty Creator of the Universe. It is easy to understand why the Scribes and Pharisees would be bristling with anger and contempt for Jesus teaching such a ‘blasphemous’ practice.
Yet in this way, Jesus alerts us and reminds us for all time to God’s true and caring Fatherhood of us, His children and it points us on into our relationship to Him. Through faith, we become sons and daughters through God’s Son Jesus whose profound work on the Cross completed once for all, God’s redemptive plan which at last brings us back into the Family of God. In all this is the evidence of the deeply personal grace and love of God in His redemption of us, His creatures. How moving is this? How overwhelming!
While God has a myriad of titles which ignite our reverence and awe in His presence, Jesus leads His followers into beginning conversation with the Almighty in this most intimate of ways. It shifts our ground from unholy, unacceptable sinner wholly unfit to be in His Presence to that of sonship with all the protection and all the privilege that brings with it. That must have been an immense transition for the disciples to become accustomed to.
For us too, even though we have become so used to calling God our Father now, it can still be deeply challenging to call Him Father even as we wrestle with our own ‘un-sonlike’ behaviours. (For one, the example of the rebellious Prodigal Son springs readily to mind.) Yet Jesus labours to instil in His followers the fact that our Father God loves us so dearly as His own children. He cares intimately for us and bends His ear to hear our every prayer and plea.
Put another way, the Fatherhood of God brings with it His protection so we begin our exchange with the Almighty not from a place of hopeless, horrified fear. Rather, we begin from a place of hope-filled secureness, reverence and deep respect for our loving Father who has gone to such inordinate lengths in sending His Son to bring us back into His family, adopted, loved, protected.
The Fatherhood of God also brings with it a return to the relationship of Eden – an inheritance which was lost far back in the Fall. Yet it is now restored through the life and work of the Son of God, our Saviour and Redeemer, Jesus. Like the Prodigal Son, we have no entitlement whatsoever yet this astonishing re-connection to our Father God is bestowed freely and fully upon us by His grace. So, we come to speak with the Father as sons and heirs entirely through God’s love and our redemption in Christ.
Briefly, in acknowledgement of the full phrase:
Heaven was once thought to be a physical place above the overarching sky from which God looked down on the earth below. The older ones among us will remember how in 1961 Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first man ever to go into space. Soviet propaganda subsequently reported that Gagarin had said, “I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.” This was touted as proving that God did not exist since he was not to be seen ‘in Heaven’ at all. However, Anton Pervushin, a Russian journalist who was his close friend testified that Gagarin was a true Christian and a firm believer who never gave up his faith. That said, his visit into space did put an end to any lingering ideas that Heaven was floating around up there, out of normal earthbound sight. [While we may not see it with our physical eyes, we are reminded that our physical Universe is not eternal but finite and one day it will be replaced when there will be “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev 21.1).]
Heaven is effectively where God is, a place of holiness and perfection where angels and saints are with Him. When we pray, we are guided like the disciples to pray to Him in that ‘place’. We are also thankful and truly blessed to know His presence in our lives and throughout our world as well.