Question 120: Why did Christ command us to call God “Our Father”?
Answer: At the very beginning of our prayer Christ wants to kindle in us what is basic to our prayer – the childlike awe and trust that God through Christ has become our Father…
Over the years I have come to appreciate a well-crafted layer cake. Looking at a frosted and decorated tower of yummy goodness is a stunning feast for the eyes. Cutting into this tower reveals the layers; what was hidden by frosting is now on display. Perhaps there are two, three, or maybe six layers! The layers may be familiar flavors or something unexpected. Additionally, the layers may be separated by any number of different fillings. I can’t wait to taste these layers—individually and collectively.
Approaching the first two words of what is commonly called The Lord’s Prayer, is like approaching a layer cake. Initially, we are familiar with the words and the background of the passage—but as we begin to ‘dig in’ the layers are revealed, and each layer enhances our understanding and love for the whole.
Removing Relational Distance
During my time in college, the father of my closest friend was a Major General in the U.S. Army. I had a certain understanding of what it meant to have the rank of ‘General’ however, in the context of our relationship, he was “Mr. Smith” and like a second father to me. I was often in his home, we had fun and candid conversations, we spent several holidays together, and he was always happy to see me and to embrace me with a fatherly hug.
Years later, I took my husband Matt to meet Mr. Smith. On the way to the Smith’s home, I began to share with Matt some of my memories of the Smiths. During this conversation, I also shared that Mr. Smith was a Major General. This piece of information caused an almost immediate response in Matt; he stood a little straighter and became noticeably more rigid. Matt had served in the military, and in a military context, to be in the presence of a ‘General’ requires specific and formal etiquette. These formalities are offered to senior military leaders to show respect for their service to our nation. Nevertheless, these formalities also serve as reminders of rank and position, creating relational distance.
As we look at Matthew 6:9a we read that Jesus instructs us to go to God in prayer by addressing God as “Father.” You may recall that the book of Matthew is written to Jewish Christians. In Jewish tradition the formal name of “God” was not written or spoken. This practice was not required by God, rather, it grew out of a desire to keep the third commandment— to avoid accidently taking the name of the Lord in vain. When speaking to someone, how we address them reveals the intimacy of the relationship. To not use someone’s personal name creates distance. As with Mr. Smith, if I began to call him “Major General Smith” it would communicate a prescribed distance in our relationship. For Jesus to address God as ‘Father’ was to remove distance, drawing us into a deep and personal relationship.
Access Through the Son
Access to God Our Father is rooted in Jesus Christ. We receive through grace what is Christ’s by nature. When we pray, we should be reminded and encouraged that we pray to God as Our Father because we have been made God’s children through Jesus. When Christ changed us from enemies of God into beloved daughters of Our Father, He changed our context. Jesus, our Elder Brother, closed the distance between us and God, Our Father. We see the beauty of this demonstrated in the story of the prodigal son found in Luke 15. As the son is returning home—hoping to be a servant in his father’s house—the father runs and embraces his son. This embrace is initiated by the father and no distance remains between him and his son. The same is true for us. Our Father has embraced us as His child, not as a slave. Our Father has removed all distance in our relationship; nothing can separate us from His love.
Not only does Jesus tell the disciples to call God “Father,” Jesus also begins the prayer with “Our.” Jesus does not say “My Father” or “Your Father;” rather, He states “Our Father.” The layers of the cake continue to reveal beauty and complexity. As we come to God “Our” Father in prayer, we not only embrace the vertical relationship Christ established between us and God; we are also reminded of the horizontal relationships Christ established within His body. Union with Christ unites us to Himself and to one another. When we pray “Our” Father, we are encouraged in the truth that we are not alone.
The next time you find yourself in a worship service, reciting The Lord’s Prayer with your brothers and sisters, I hope you find great joy in hearing the concert of your covenant family’s voices. One day these voices will join with the voices of all who have been made righteous in Christ and together we will gather around Our Father to praise His name for eternity. And maybe, share a delicious piece of wedding cake.
Photo by Olivia Snow on Unsplash