The Fatherhood of God


One of the struggles of being a Christian lawyer is the idea of taking God on faith.Those of us in the legal tribe are trained to be skeptical, to look for evidence, and to reason our way to conclusions based upon standards like probability and reasonable doubt. Many agnostics and atheists face the same problem when asked to accept that existence originates from the Divine intelligence of a God who loves us and who made us in his image. Where then can we look for the definitive solution to this eternally perplexing problem?

It is a very striking fact that Jesus never argues for the existence of God. Search the Gospels from first to last for “proofs” of God, and you will look in vain. But why?

One doubtless reason is that Jesus knew that in such matters, logical argument in and ofitself could never breed conviction in the belief of something so transcendent. It might remove certain difficulties, but it cannot beget heavenly vision. The poet Omar Khayyam’s experience is elucidates:

“Myself when young did eagerly frequent Doctor and Saint, and heard every Argument About it and shout; but evermore
Came out by the same door as in I went.”

There are certain historic “proofs” for the existence of God of which former generations of philosophers and theologians made much; but in fact it has never been nor ever will be along that line of inquiry that conviction comes and we get a grip on God. A living conviction is bred by only two things, each of them higher and deeper than a lawyer’s 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. Thus the Bible, the most religiously and psychologically sane book in the world, does not begin with “Let us summarize the arguments for God”, or “Now as to the question of whether there exists and God or not”, or anything to such effect. Instead, Genesis goes in one bold stroke to the veryquick of things with these indelible words, like the sudden blast of Joshua’s horn—“In the beginning, God”. And so Jesus in turn does not come to prove God; instead, he comes to do something much better. He comes to reveal God as our universal Heavenly Father.

As we all know, there was in any case no need to argue. Jesus assumes a belief in God among his immediate audiences, and was right to do so. Jesus was of course born a Jew, and the core of the Hebrew religion is a convinced monotheism. The essence of it is stated in the Deuteronomic creed: “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord” (Deut. 6:4). The belief in God is thus a given, and Jesus could count upon it. So much at least was common ground between the shepherd and his flock. Upon that basis, he could go to work and build. Hence the question was not “is there a God?”, but was rather “Since there is a God, what is He like?”

To that question, Christ’s answer was one constantly iterated word—“Father.” Within the short compass of our Gospels that name appears over 150 times. It is even there in the first recorded boyhood utterance of Jesus—“Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?”(Luke 2:49). It is also there in his death cry at Calvary—“Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”(Luke 23:46). Christendom, with the Gospels in hand, has inevitably fixed upon this as the supreme name for God—forever.

It would not of course be accurate to state that Jesus was the first to call God “Father”. Dimly and gropingly, the heroes of the Old Testament had been feeling after this great thought upon which Christ alone could set his seal. To begin with, they conceived heavenly fatherhood almost solely in the national sphere. He was the Father of Israel, his chosen people. “Thus saith the Lord”, said Moses to Pharaoh, “Israel is my son, even my firstborn.”(Exod.4:22). This was a national fatherhood. But already in the Old Testament, we begin to see the movement out into something deeper and more personal, especially in some of the best psalms, as, for example, when God is called the “father of the fatherless” (Psalm 68:5), orin that word of incredible compassion and beauty—“Like as a father pitieth his children, sothe Lord pitieth them that fear him” (Psalm 103:13). Consequently, we cannot honestly say that Jesus was the first to call God “Father”. There are however two mightily important respects in which his teachings about fatherhood and our relationship with God was not only original, but indeed revolutionary.

Christ took a thought that had been a stray guest hovering vaguely on the shady borderland and circumference of the human mind and merely made it the very centre of everything. Before Jesus, many good and wise people framed God’s relationship to mankind mainly in terms of a master potter and his clay, of a creator and his creatures, or perhaps even a ruler and his subjects. But to Jesus, all such conceptions were opaque half-lights, hiding as much as they revealed. For Christ, the likest thing on earth to God’s relationship with us is the family relationship, the life of a father and his children. This new emphasis of Jesus, that centralizing of this conception, was completely unheard of and changed the whole face of religion.

The other crucial respect in which Christ’s conception of God as Father was totally novel was the new depth and content he put into the word itself. Not only did he make the word basic; he enriched it beyond recognition. He accomplishes this not so much by what he said as by how he lived. Jesus uniquely lived out consistently, unfailingly, brightly and triumphantly the kind of life that a vital sense of the Divine should imply. Here in this absolutely filial life of Christ, this perfect sonship of the Master, all the tenderness, strength,serenity, and amazing everlasting dependability of the Father-God are mirrored. In this way,Jesus bestows upon the word “Father” a depth which we could otherwise have never envisioned.

So what then is the Christian meaning of Fatherhood? When Christ taught us to lookup and call God “Father”, what exactly did he mean by it? What practical consequences didhe draw for us? For a start, it means that since God is a Father, he is vitally interested in all ofhis children’s concerns. Christ asked the world to believe unconditionally, radically,completely, that even mortal concerns like food and clothing are most certainly God’sconcern; that when “man goeth forth unto his work, and to his labour, until the evening,”God goes forth with us; and that at bottom, unseen and sometimes unrecognized buteverlastingly gracious, there is a loving heart thinking for His people all the time, planningfor them, remembering them, arranging wonderful surprises of sheer goodness for them.Jesus put all that into one great, simple sentence: “If ye then”—you fathers...know how togive good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven givegood things to them that ask him?” (Matt. 7:11).

Christ not only taught such faith—he lived it. He practiced what he preached. Everypage of the Gospels shows Jesus taking the faith in a Father-God which he proclaimed to usand placing himself into it, body and soul. There are many such instances, but the best mightbe in Mark 4:37. There was a night on the Sea of Galilee when the sudden whirlwind blewand the waves lashed to fury. The frail fishing craft sagged and swayed in the trough of thetempest. The fishers of men on board looked into each other’s terrified countenances andcried that this must be their untimely end. Meanwhile, Jesus lay peacefully asleep on apillow. To us, reading the story today, that reposing Christ in the storm is one of the mostcompelling arguments for faith. Why was he asleep? Because it was God’s sea, and thewaters, the wind, and even the dark were in the palm of his Father’s mighty hand.

Christ’s teaching and life reveal that to know a God who is thus vitally interested in all of his children’s concerns is to have the secret of a peace, a poise, and a serenity that none of our travails can disrupt. Anyone who has made this discovery passes out of the bondage off ear and worry into a glorious liberty and release. They have achieved absolute independence of circumstances in utter dependance upon God the Father. They have discovered what Christ meant by “blessedness” (Matt 5:3). They are doing what the New Testament calls “overcoming the world.” Because God is at our right hand, we shall not be moved.

According to Jesus, since God is a father, he knows and loves each individual soul. A father does not love his family in general; he loves each child especially. Even so the “very hairs on your head are all numbered” (Matt 10:30). “God so loved the world” (John 3:16) isbut one side of the shield; the other is this—“There is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” (Luke 15:10). The shepherd leaves the 99 sheep in the foldand goes after the one (Luke 15:4-7). Christ’s own redeeming work shows the individualizing love of God the Father in action. Crowds gathered round Jesus, but it wasthe single soul that engrossed and fascinated him. There were countless ailing folk at the pool of Bethesda, but Jesus went straight to the one poor, desperate soul who had endured 38 years of misery (John 5:2). When the slow, sad procession filed out from the Gates of Nain,Christ has eyes only for the weeping mother who had lost her boy (Luke 7:11). Pressed and jostled by a gaping crowd, he turns to identify the one shrinking soul who most needed histouch (Mark 5-25). Some of the most glorious verses in the Gospels were given first to one lonely woman who had bungled her life (John 4:7). Christ walked and talked with Nicodemus in the dark (John 3:1). He escaped the Jericho mob and chose Zaccheus for his host (Luke 19:1). Looking at Christ, we feel the force of Augustine’s dictum about God theFather: “He loves us every one as though there were but one of us to love.”

According to Jesus, since God is our Father, we can be absolutely natural in our religion.By bringing in the family concept, Jesus struck a death blow at that devastating thing known as formality in religion. Mankind had previously thought that God could be only be satisfied by pomp and ceremony (Matt 6:5; 23:23); but that was not the way in which any earthly father wishes his children to approach him, and certainly God the Father of heaven did not require such. This does not mean that we have license to be irreverent with God or to take liberties with him. But it does mean that the barriers of formality are removed. The veil is rent in twain from the very top (Matt. 27:51). One result of this is that simple petitionary prayer gains a revitalized importance and authority. The idea that we should eliminate the element of definite petition from our prayers received no countenance from Christ, who says that if God is our Father and we are his children, then we can clearly take all of our requests and desires to him (Matt. 7:7). It would indeed be unnatural to refrain from so doing, and if anything in our relationship to God is unnatural, then it is surely wrong. By calling GodFather, Jesus baptized religion into a new freedom and liberty of childlike directness and simplicity.

Since Jesus tells us that God is a Father, it also follows that pain has a meaning.Throughout the Old Testament, the Israelites were apt to think that pain, suffering, and all manner of trials were signs of an angry God’s condemnation and judgement of their sins.Through the new covenant, Christ clears that awful thought away, and so we know that certain types of suffering can be experienced—through the Grace of the Holy Spirit—as God’s election of that soul for signal honour. So it was with Jesus himself. Paul, describing Christ’s suffering, says, “God spared not his own Son” (Rom. 8:32). Why was he not spared?Because God had a purpose for him; a great and glorious world redeeming one, and suffering was the only road to it. So God deals with all of his children. “Blessed are ye, when men shall...persecute you...for my sake.”(Matt. 5:11). As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, “What's on is he whom the father chasteneth not?” (Heb. 12:7).

There is yet one other way in which the thought of God’s fatherhood illuminates the problem of human pain. It implies that God shares in our own pain as that of his own children. If God is a Father and we are his children, it follows then that any temporal suffering we must endure is his suffering too, that anything which hurts us harms God(because he is a real father) far more, and that any fires we fight are seven times hotter for him. “In all their affliction he was afflicted.” (Isa. 63:9). The ultimate example of this is, ofcourse, Calvary.

According to Christ, since God is a Father, sin and forgiveness stand in a new light. On the one hand, sin grows darker. If the power behind the universe were sheer impersonal law, then our wrong thoughts and deeds would be sins against the law. But if the supreme moveris, through Christ, a Father, then our Hamartia are sins against love. And if it is wrong to strike a blow at a rigid law, then it is far worse to injure a Father’s loving heart. Indeed, to call God “Father” is effectively to make sin itself intolerable. The greatest of the parables, the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11) , drives this lesson home. But not content with just teaching it, Christ gives his life to make it plain. For it was not the law that was crucified on the cross—it was a Father’s Holy love.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son describes the character of the forgiving father, who remains constant throughout the story, and is a depiction of God. In telling the story, Christ identifies Himself with God in His loving attitude toward the lost, symbolized by the younger son. The elder, more constant brother represents the self-righteous, namely the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The major theme of the Parable is not so much the conversion of the sinner, but rather restoration of a believer in fellowship with the Father. In this story, the Father does not go out to look for what was lost, but instead waits and watches eagerly for his wayward son’s return. We see a progression through the three Parables in

Luke from one in a hundred, to one in ten, and then finally, one to one, thus demonstrating a Father’s love for each individual and His personal attentiveness toward all humanity. This story illustrates the graciousness of the father overshadowing the sinfulness of the son, as it is the memory of the father’s goodness that brings the prodigal son to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

Christ is crucified, but not killed. For at Calvary the Father heart of God passed breaking point but would be unbroken; and if sin stands in a new light, so does love’s victory over sin, which is forgiveness. Can God forgive? This question is pondered many times in the Old Testament, with the answer often left in doubt. But when Christ came to teach us to call God “Father”, the real question becomes—“how can God not forgive ?” Daringly, Jesus pictured his Father, not waiting for his shamed child to slink home, nor standing on his dignity when he came, but running out to gather him, shamed, ragged, and muddied though he was, into his welcoming arms. The same name “Father” has thus at once darkened the colour of sin and brightened the splendid glory of forgiveness.

Finally, says Christ, since God is a Father, all of mankind are siblings. Clearly no one has the right to take Christ’s words “our Father” upon their lips to utter the Lord’s Prayer unless they are prepared to regard all of humanity as members of God’s family. In an age that is clamorous about “inclusion”, it is strange that we do not hear more about the one great conviction on which alone a lasting global community can be built—the conviction of divine fatherhood. When Christ imprints that conviction upon our hearts, it is not only a filial law he gives, but also a replete motive. To be able to say to one another—“That person like myself has God for a Father; they too are a child of God”—is to be well on the way to vanquish human conflict.

It is upon this ground that the dictum “East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet” breaks down. Here divergences of temperament are transcended, andjarring prejudices give way; here denominationalism falls into true perspective, and all therifts within the lute that spoil the spiritual music are healed; here the deep cleavages of racism, gender ideology, inequality and nationality are bridged, and behind the United Nations something much grander, finer, and nobler emerges—the family of God. Here in Christ’s revelation of God as Father, the hope of a unified earth has been given once and for all, the vision of the New Jerusalem coming out of heaven, adorned as a bride for her husband.

But is there another story of fatherhood that has been overlooked here, and which might be of even more practical application for us mere mortals? After all, Jesus had an earthly father figure, who stood as surrogate to our Father in Heaven. In “Fatherhood Principles of Joseph The Carpenter: Examples of Godly Fatherhood”, Akili Kumasi addresses the oft forgotten question: what role did Joseph play in the life of Jesus? In doing so, he discovers many principles that are applicable to our own lives as human fathers.

Joseph was earthly father to God’s son. He was a teacher, coach and mentor during Jesus’ youth. Joseph was the God-chosen leader of the family that helped prepare Jesus for the most important ministry in history. Kumasi sheds light upon effective Godly fatherhood strategies through the story of this great man of faith, and shows how Joseph facilitated Jesus’ development and protected his family. All of this naturally remains relevant instruction aldata for the fathers of today, who continue to struggle with the age old challenges of paternity.

Joseph’s role in Jesus life was so stunning that he is the 21st century archetype which fathers must emulate today. Kumasi explains why Joseph was so successful and also why God selected him to be Christ’s earthly father. Kumasi tells the story of Joseph the carpenter and sets out the 7 principles of Godly Fatherhood to raise our own children, which include:

(1) Be a Godly Man;
(2) Be a Man of Character;
(3) Be a Godly Husband;
(4) Be a Godly Family Man;
(5) Be a Teacher;
(6) Be a Provider; &
(7) Be a Protector.
Kumasi depicts Joseph as a humble servant and courageous leader, and provides a look

behind the scenes of the Hebrew background of the Nazarene Holy Family. We are also introduced to important points about the Jewish educational tradition in which our Lord and Saviour was raised. Part of the responsibility for presenting the story of Joseph the Carpenter is to counter some popularly held myths about Joseph. Kumasi’s account of Joseph is taken strictly from scripture, which is our authoritative source for documenting the Godly life of this great man, who was nonetheless a mere mortal like the rest of us. This research is entirely Biblical. Throughout the book, Kumasi cites other sources to document historical facts for context, especially relevant Jewish customs and traditions.

Perhaps the most useful application of considering the role that Joseph played in the life of Jesus is that it reveals how we can iterate the Fatherhood of God and His love in the everyday lives of our own children, teaching them important principles of Christian life, and thereby enriching our paternal relationships with them.

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