Day 10: The Father as God

Why did Jesus call God Father? And what difference does it make for our prayers? The New Testament suggests three answers to the first question and one to the second. We call God Father because:

  • as God, he is the Father of Jesus Christ;
  • as Savior, he is the Father of all believers;
  • and as Creator, he is the Father of the entire world.

Because our heavenly Father is God, Savior, and Creator, we can be confident that he loves us and gives us what we need. This is the difference God’s Fatherhood makes to our prayers.

When we examine the relationship between God and Jesus Christ, two things become apparent: (1) Jesus related to God uniquely, and (2) that uniqueness arose from the fact of his divinity. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels shows Jesus’ unique relationship with God. John 20:17 is a prime example: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Jesus is not referring to two gods but to two ways of relating to God: his and ours.

The best explanation for this unique relationship is Jesus’ own divinity. Notice what he said in John 5:17: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I, too, am working.” John tells us that this angered Jesus’ religious opponents because “he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (5:18).

We are wading in very deep theological waters when we affirm Jesus’ divinity. If there is only one God (Deut. 6:4), how can two persons—Father and Son—be God? (Or three persons, if we add the Holy Spirit?) And how can a man born in a stable be God? Over the centuries, the Christian tradition has developed the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation to answer these questions. The Trinity teaches that one God eternally exists as three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit. The Incarnation teaches that the Son has two complete natures—human and divine. I do not fully comprehend these doctrines—they are mysterious!—so I will not attempt to explain them to you here. Nevertheless, I believe both are based on the Bible and do not contain any obvious logical contradictions. They conform, in other words, to revelation and reason.

What I will point out is this: Both doctrines give us a powerful reason to pray. Paul writes in Romans 8:31–32: “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” If the Father loves us so greatly that he gave the Son to save us, how can we not approach him confidently in prayer? Nothing is “able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:39).

So, let us pray to God, the Father of Jesus Christ!


The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories

Joseph Epstein, The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010). $24.00, 272 pages.

My taste in fiction is ambivalent.

On the one hand, I enjoy reading stories about the conflict between good and evil, in which the two poles are clearly defined and the former defeats the latter, especially when victory is snatched last-minute from the jaws of defeat. J. R. R. Tolkien called this snatching eucatastrophe. The Lord of the Rings is a masterpiece of this genre of literature. Less mythologically, Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels and Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels—and what’s up with action heroes being named Jack?—also belong to this genre.

On the other hand, I enjoy reading the short stories of Joseph Epstein, who writes close inspections of “fabulous small Jews”—to borrow the title of his previous collection of short stories. In The Love Song of A. Jerome Minkoff and Other Stories, Epstein meditates on the lives, loves, and losses of professionally successful, late-middle-age and senior-citizen Jewish men, who grew up, were educated, worked, and live in or near Chicago. Epstein himself is such a man. Not knowing him, it’s difficult to know how autobiographical his writing is, but certainly his experiences have colored his stories.

Not much happens in Epstein’s stories. Sauron is not defeated. The bad guys do not get their violent comeuppance. Instead, a widower decides not to remarry a wealthy widow. A literature professor discovers there’s more to life than art. A businessman helps out a homeless man then wonders why the man resents him. A philosopher ponders finding love with a middle-aged woman who works as a check-out clerk at the supermarket. A teacher runs into his high-school tennis partner fifty years later and ponders the difference in the trajectories of their lives. A man sees that a neighbor’s dreams for their daughter blind them to whom that daughter really is, and what she can accomplish.

There is no eucatastrophe in any of these stories, and hardly any catastrophe. Which is what makes them so interesting to me. My life is not, at least in the day-to-day details, a titanic struggle between good and evil, in which large decisions must be hammered out. It is, rather, a minute struggle between good and mediocre, in which small choices must be made. What Epstein’s stories force me to think about is the long-term consequences of these small choices. How to balance home and work. How to work well, even knowing that one’s work accomplishments are ephemeral. How to appreciate beauty without becoming enslaved to art. How to be kind, even to unappreciative people.

If you’re not interested in reflecting on these small questions, don’t read Epstein’s book. But if so, please do.


P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my review page.

Day 9: Responding to an Objection

Many people find it difficult to pray to God as heavenly Father. Their earthly fathers were so bad that they cannot conceive of a heavenly Father in anything but negative terms. Additionally, some object that since God is neither male nor female, it is inappropriate to think of him in masculine terms. Either we should stop thinking of God in terms of sex, or we should start balancing masculine terms with feminine ones, praying to God as both Father and Mother.

Both points of view share a mistake. They assume that our God-talk is the result of projection rather than revelation. For them, the flow of imagery is upward: We conceive of God in our own image. According to the Bible, however, the flow is downward. He reveals himself through our language. Consequently, we should not see our heavenly Father through the distorting prism of earthly fatherhood—with its sinfulness and limitation. Instead, we should view earthly fatherhood in the light of heaven—with all its boundless perfection. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:15, it is from our heavenly Father that “every fatherhood in heaven and on earth is named” (ESV, marginal note). (The Greek word translated “family” is patria, literally, “fatherhood.”)

When we pray, then, we must remember the contrast between our heavenly Father and our earthly fathers. By the same token, however, we must remember that Jesus chose the image of fatherhood to describe God for a reason: We learn about what we do not know by means of what we do. When, therefore, our earthly fathers act as God created them to act, we see through their examples glimpses of how our heavenly Father treats us. Calling God our heavenly Father implies both contrast from and comparison to our earthly fathers, in other words.

A little parable in Matthew 7:7–11 makes this point clearly. Jesus asks, “Which of you, 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, though 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!” Jesus admits that some earthly fathers are evil, in strong contrast to our morally perfect heavenly Father. This is a point of contrast. But even bad dads know how to give good gifts. So a great dad—our heavenly Father—must know how to give really excellent gifts. This is a point of comparison.

Precisely because our heavenly Father gives great gifts, then, Jesus tells us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” Our good heavenly Father will see that we get what we need, “and quickly”; so let us “always pray and not give up” (Luke 18:1, 8)!

Day 8: Who You Pray to Matters

The Lord’s Prayer (Matt. 6:9–13) consists of six petitions. When we pray, we ask God that

  • his name be hallowed,
  • his kingdom come,
  • his will be done,
  • our needs be met,
  • our sins forgiven,
  • and our souls protected.

    Notice the order of these requests. First, we direct our attention to God and his concerns; then—and only then—we direct God’s attention to us and our concerns. When we prioritize God, we receive his blessing: “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.] will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33).

    Notice also what Jesus assumes about God. The Lord’s Prayer tells us what to pray for, but it assumes certain things about God’s character and power. It assumes he is worthy of our requests and able to grant them.

    These assumptions find expression in the name Jesus uses to address God: our heavenly Father. We are so accustomed to referring to God as Father that we forget what a radical idea and innovative practice it was in Jesus’ own day. New Testament scholars believe that Jesus invented the habit of calling God Father. He did so because he was conscious of his unique relationship with God. In John 20:17, for example, he distinguished his way of relating to God from ours: “I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” But his relationship with God is not a zero-sum game. We too can become God’s sons and daughters because Jesus is God’s Son par excellence: “In love,” Paul writes, “[God] predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Eph. 1:5). When we call God Father, we say something important about his character: He loves us, and it is his pleasure and will to welcome us into his presence.

    When we call God our heavenly Father, we say something equally important about his power. In the Bible, heaven is God’s dwelling place, the throne room from which he rules the universe. It connotes divine majesty and absolute power. Revelation 4:1–11 records John’s vision of heaven. It is a place of unimaginable beauty. All day long, angels and human beings worship God to the fullest extent of their abilities. They sing:

    You are worthy, our Lord and God,

    to receive glory and honor and power,

    for you created all things,

    and by your will they were created

    and have their being.

    In lights of this song, stop and reflect for a moment on the meaning of the words, our heavenly Father. The God who created and sustains the universe is pleased to be a Father to you and me. How can we not rest assured, then, that our prayers will be answered when we pray to such a God?

    Who you pray to matters, it turns out, as much as—if not more than—what you pray for.

    Day 7: What Should We Pray For?

    In Matthew 6:9–13, Jesus teaches us the Lord’s Prayer:

    Our Father in heaven,

    hallowed be your name,

    your kingdom come,

    your will be done

    on earth as it is in heaven.

    Give us today our daily bread.

    Forgive us our debts,

    as we also have forgiven our debtors.

    And lead us not into temptation,

    but deliver us from the evil one.

    Notice the pattern of this prayer and the specific requests it makes.

    The pattern is vertical and horizontal. First, we direct our attention to God and his concerns; then, we ask God to direct his attention to us and our concerns. In Matthew 22:37–39, Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Prayer simply follows the pattern of these two great commandments.

    The Lord’s Prayer makes six specific requests. First, we pray, “hallowed be your name.” The name of God is revelatory; it tells us about his person and works. According to Matthew 1:21, for example, Joseph and Mary named their baby Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins.” In Hebrew, Yeshua simply means, “the Lord saves.” So, the first thing we do in prayer is praise God for who he is and what he as done. By doing so, we focus on God’s powerful love for us.

    Our second and third requests are “your kingdom come, your will be done.” The will of God is what he wants to accomplish in the world he created and the people he is saving. Through prayer, we prioritize God’s agenda for our lives.

    Fourth, we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” In first–century Palestine, most people lived at a subsistence level. They worked as day laborers, earning only enough money to buy what short–term provisions they needed. So, the prayer for daily bread was a prayer for actual bread. In our day, it includes other things. When we pray, we can ask God for whatever we need. Interestingly, there is a connection between doing God’s will and receiving our daily bread. As Jesus says in Matthew 6:33, “seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, and clothing, among others] will be given to you as well.”

    Fifth, we pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” When we pray, we seek God’s grace and promise to send it along to others as well. Prayer is the nexus between our reconciliation with God and our reconciliation with other people.

    Finally, we pray, “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Life is difficult. God uses these difficulties to make us better people. So, when we pray, we must learn to trust God in trying times.

    When we pray, we ought to follow the pattern of the Lord’s Prayer and make its requests our own.