What is your view of God like? Austere, remote, distant? Unapproachable, unimaginable, vague? Micromanaging, autocratic, tyrannical? Petty, fault-finding, judgmental? Angry, ill-tempered, irascible? Disinterested, dispassionate, impersonal?
How we see God will condition how we pray, for better or for worse. Jesus knows this. Hence, he does not assume we know to Whom we speak when we begin to pray. In other words, he does not say, “Prayer is just talking to God.” We will have to know who this God is and what he’s like if we’re going to make a good start into prayer.
And so the first word of the Lord’s Prayer (in Greek), is Pater. Father. For Jesus, the controlling concept for God, which should condition our life of prayer, is fatherhood. God is Father.
Let us pause for a moment and consider that.
Jesus could have began his teaching on prayer in any way he wanted. “Father”, after all, was not a typically Jewish way of beginning a prayer, especially in the first century. God was so high and holy that many Jews dared not utter the name, instead choosing roundabout ways of addressing or talking about God (“circumlocution” is the technical word for it). “May heaven help you…” (instead of “may God help you…”) would be a modern equivalent to it.
And so here is Jesus, a Jew, a first century Jew at that, calling us to address God directly… and not just directly, but with a term that implies a stunning degree of intimacy: “Father.”
He could have had us begin…
- Our Intergalactic CEO who art in heaven…
- Our Cosmic President who dwells in the heavens…
- O Great Autocrat of the Universe, who dwells in the heavens…
But he does not. It is not sovereignty that Jesus wishes to emphasize, but intimacy and familial nearness, as we shall soon see.
Some will of course object that that was a bad move on Jesus’ part. “Most people’s dad’s are self-centered slobs. Morons. Abusive and/or disinterested. Why on earth would he choose Father as the first metaphor for God?”
Maybe because that’s simply the best description for God. That we have warped and defiled the concept of “Father” does not deter Jesus. He will bring us to a place of knowing God as Father aright, for that is what He is, and that is how He longs for us to know him. Not as an angry tyrant, or a distant landlord… but as “Dad.”
Jesus is the Son of the Father, and he will lead us to know the God he called Father, for we will know the Father through the Son’s sonship.
Ah, but I anticipate a later move… stay tuned.