Is the Fatherhood of God a cliché?
The dictionary defines cliché as “a phrase or word that has lost its original effectiveness or power from overuse.” You undoubtedly have heard this cliché, for example: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I’m sure this advice made sense when people didn’t have indoor plumbing; but now you don’t throw water out, you unstop the plug and let it drain away. I’m sure babies all over America will sleep peacefully tonight knowing there’s not a chance they’ll be tossed with the dirty water.
I fear that for many people God’s Fatherhood has become a cliché. When Jesus first began addressing God as Father, he was doing something almost revolutionary in the realm of spirituality. Oh sure, in a general sense, both Jewish and Gentile thinkers referred to God as Father. He was, after all, the Creator of the universe. But when Jesus called God Father, he meant something more powerful because more intimate.
Perhaps the force of Jesus calling God Father can be illustrated by the difference between two words: father itself and daddy. When I talk about George O. Wood, I refer to him as my father, but when I talk to George O. Wood, I call him Dad. Father is a formal word, daddy an intimate one. George Washington may be the Father of Our Country, but nobody would dare call him America’s Daddy.
When Jesus referred to God, he used the Aramaic word Abba, which is much closer to daddy than it is to father. As I said, in Jesus day, this was spiritually revolutionary stuff. Indeed, decades after Jesus’ ministry, John still seems shocked by the familiarity. Consider what he writes in 1 John 3:1-3:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.
Two consequences follow from the fact that God is our Father. First, we are his children, the sons and daughters of God. Second, we bear a family resemblance to him. If he is pure, we ought to be pure too. Intimacy with God, in other words, must result in holiness.
In the first century, calling God Father was a uniquely Christian act, instituted by Jesus Christ himself. Nowadays, everyone calls God Father. (Some even call God Mother.) God’s Fatherhood has become a cliché. And precisely because it’s a cliché, God’s Fatherhood no longer motivates people to bear the family resemblance of holiness.
But it should. And it will for us as long as we remember that God’s love was not lavished on good people, but on sinners like us. God’s Fatherhood isn’t natural, you see; it’s an act of sheer grace.