God as Father by Art Katz
I rarely, if ever, call on God the Father. My prayers are always directly to the Lord Jesus. Even though Jesus said we should pray to the Father in Jesus’ name, I pray directly to the Lord. I am more comfortable with the word Lord than I am with the word Father. Maybe this is true for you also. You would think it is a small matter how we address God, but I am being persuaded it is a great matter. I believe we have all suffered appreciable loss by the failure to acknowledge and to call upon God the Father. When the disciples asked Jesus how to pray, this is how he answered them, “Pray in this way: Our Father…” And when He was resurrected, He said, “I am going to My Father and your Father.” So this is more than just a little punctuation. This is at the heart of the mystery of the Godhead, of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Not the least of the functions of Jesus as Son is to reveal the Father who sent Him. All that He did was performed through the inspiration of the Father, never speaking His own words, but only what the Father gave Him. Even at the last He prayed, “Father, if this cup could pass, let it pass; nevertheless, Your will be done.”
If we do not have a concept of God the Father, what concept do we have of fatherhood itself? If we have not understood the authority that is inherent in fatherhood, what are we able to recognize when it is set before us in the Church? So everything is adversely affected to the degree that we do not have a right reckoning and understanding appropriate to us as God’s children. How shall we be children in a serious way if we have not understood the Father in a serious way? Everything suffers loss in one form or another. The recognition of God the Father and the recognition of ourselves decline in proportion to the inadequate understanding of the Father. The Father is the pivot of every consideration that makes the faith the faith and by which we can call ourselves Christian. Many of us have suffered loss; either we have grown up without fathers, and therefore could not lay hold of the concept of God the Father, or we had fathers who were derelict, either in their neglect or their abuse. They have given us a terrible slant and prejudicial attitude about the word father itself, so we are not comfortable in invoking that word in reference to God. Our own human experience has colored the way in which we perceive God. Maybe the reason we have had derelict fathers, those who did not set forth the genius of fatherhood from the great prototype of the God who is in heaven, is because they themselves were not instructed. Therefore generation to generation suffers loss, and we communicate to our children less than what ought to be communicated as fathers.
The scriptures emphasize the chastening aspect of fatherhood. The Father chastens those whom He loves. For the lack of that chastening we have many derelict sons today, children that are unwise or unruly. The rebellion in the children of our generation may be an organic cry for the lack of a fatherhood that chastens. Chastening is painful, and only a father’s love will enable it to be expressed. A father who does not love his children will shrink from chastening them because it hurts him to inflict it. The thing that distinguishes God the Father is that He does not hold back. He bears the pain, but He performs it. If you can follow me, the crucifixion of Jesus was the Father chastening the Son, who knew no sin, but became sin for our sake, that we who knew no righteousness might become righteous. There was a chastening that was required. The Son bore that penalty freely and voluntarily, but the Father did not withhold it.
As anyone who has contemplated the cross knows, Jesus bore it in full, and even as a Son. He trembled in the Garden of Gethsemane, knowing what it was going to mean; not only the physical torture, brutal though it was, but the denial of the presence of the Father. The exquisite and final mark of that chastening was the absence of the sense of the Father at the most critical, crisis moment, when a Son, who has eternally lived with that presence, has in that moment to forsake it. Few have considered the history of Jesus before His birth. Before His human advent, where was He? What was He doing? With whom was He? Jesus had a relationship with the Father since time immemorial. He lived and basked in that presence. It was His chief delight. He forsook and left that to come to the earth, retaining that presence with Him, but at the cross it was removed. Therefore, we have His great cry, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?”
We have a whole generation of unruly, wild, unmanageable children who are registering their lack of love, most profoundly expressed by their parents’ failure to chasten them, by going off into forms of rebellion. They humiliate their fathers by puncturing their skin with earrings, tattoos, and every kind of grotesque thing, letting their hair grow long and looking wild, anything they know that will discomfort their fathers, because those fathers have failed to express deepest love through chastening.
This prototype of God the Father is critical. It is not a little luxury, or icing on the cake; it is the cake itself. If we miss God the Father, how do we understand the Son? How do we understand ourselves as sons and daughters? How do we understand authority? The precious thing about the fatherhood of God is not only providing the prototype by which fatherhood can be modeled, but also the grace to be it. It takes grace to be a father, and it is my most conspicuous failure naturally-speaking, as the present condition of my sons testifies. I have no natural qualification to be what the Lord is calling for. Praise God, there is a prototype of the Father in heaven, and grace from that Father to be that in the earth. As Paul said, we have many teachers, but few fathers.
Jesus is the epitome of brokenness, and therefore, this quality is at the heart of sonship. He made himself a voluntary candidate to experience the cross in obedience to the Father, which was not academic or antiseptic, but out of the love of the Father, because the activity of the Son glorified the Father. We read that “to Him every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus, the Christ, is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” So we need to come into the realization that our every action, every service and conduct has as its ultimate consideration the glory of God the Father. That is how it was for Jesus unto death at the cross, and that is how it must be for us also. But if the Father is only an abstraction, if it is only a word that has no palpable meaning, no cogent image that is true, what kind of glory can be rendered, and what kind of sacrifice and service can be performed if it is not to the glory of God the Father in a way that is really relative to our cognizance of God as Father. So are you persuaded that the concept of God the Father is no small thing?
I have been reading The Forgotten Father by Thomas Smail. He is one of the leaders of the British charismatic movement. Back when this book was written, he was sensing certain unhappy aspects of charismatica that were the result of the absence of this consideration of God the Father, and that the Spirit of God was being extracted from the trinity, but independent of the rest of the triune godhead. It is always a danger to celebrate the Spirit as an independent entity. Smail writes that the evangelicals or fundamentalists are equally as guilty in celebrating the Son independent of the Father. So you must not allow the Father to be extracted as some kind of hidden, invisible entity that is behind the scenes, in favor of an emphasis on the Son or the Spirit. This gives a disfigured view of God, and a disfigured Christianity that will find itself difficult to submit to authority. I am not talking about grim submission, but a joyous submission. This is what Jesus demonstrated in His continual obedience, both in word and in deed.
I cannot even begin to measure the heartache and problems that we have had to experience in the history of this little community just over the issue of authority. There are believers who have come to us who have been so disfigured by their own earthly experiences, or religious experiences, that they are unable to recognize and submit to the measure of authority that is here in this place. We have had to struggle through their misconceptions because they simply cannot relate to authority. They have never settled the issue, nor known it at its foundation with God the Father.
Jesus came to reveal God as Father. That is so profound a requirement for the sanity and reality of true living, that the Father did not think it too costly to send His Son for that very demonstration. Many of us have an unconscious way of relegating the Father to the dustbin. This is like those deists who believe that He somehow set everything in motion, set the clock ticking, and then absents Himself as the hidden God. God the Father is relegated as an afterthought, when He is the central and foremost reality.
Until we call upon Him as Father, until we can employ that word with meaning and with the reality that pertains to that Center of the godhead, then what else can be in right place and relationship? That is why Jesus taught the disciples to pray, at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father…” Until you begin with that, there is no beginning. If the word father is an abstraction, or you feel uncomfortable about using that word, then there is a way in which we will suffer loss to one degree or another. God the Father is the beginning and the foundation. He is a God who is, and ever and always was, the great Creator, the source of everything. He desires that He should be addressed as Father, but He should be addressed with meaning, with comprehension, that when we speak that word, there is an image that rises up in conjunction with it that is true, fitting and appropriate to Him who desires to be known and called upon as Father.
Can we say the word Father with the kind of reality for which God waits? Maybe it is an ultimate place to where we are being brought, and we have not yet come to it. It is no more possible than saying that Jesus is Lord except by the Spirit, except by the reality to which we are brought into the wonderful sanctifying work of God. When we can say Father with affection and esteem, when it conjures up a sense of something that is not imagined, but real, we have come to a very great place. In fact, can we be sons until we can say that? Maybe it would be better if we would hold the word Abba until the reality has broken into our hearts. That is true for everything. Maybe one of the things that hinders the reality is our premature vocalizing of it before the Lord Himself has made it real. So we need to guard our mouths and desire the foundational reality of God as Father. Jesus has revealed the Father in aspects of His fatherliness that we would not have seen if the Father had not sent His Son. When we say Father, something should well up in us of a recognition and an affection and worship appropriate to Him. Until that time we need to hold back in any kind of premature expression of the word, so that when the expression comes, it comes in spirit and in truth. The Father is seeking those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. What kind of worship have we been emitting until we have come to this kind of recognition? It is clear that our worship is lacking in exact proportion to the lack of this foundational reality. God is addressing it now.
Until that reality comes, our worship will be ambiguous and vague, our service will be shallow, our relationships will be lacking, and our submission to His authority on earth, through the appointed sources, will be lacking. We will be rebels in our hearts, and in a place of unhappiness, until the reality that comes with the word Father can truly be spoken. God is not just asking us to articulate a word. Who could not say Father? But He wants the word spoken with the comprehension of what it designates in truth. The title signifies what He is in Himself, not some vague term that we suppose refers to Him. Abstract and ambiguous Christianity is a failure, a formula for heresy, for apostasy, for all of the slipshod things that prevail in Christendom today. Maybe the root of it is the failure to know and acknowledge God the Father for who and what He is specifically in Himself.
The centrality of God the Father is the pivot, the foundation of reality. Jesus said, “The Father is greater than I.” When Jesus finally finishes the totality of His work, and brings every kingdom into submission, He then turns them over to the Father, who will be all in all. In the end, the Father who sends Him, receives the full work of the Son that He might be all in all, because He is all in all, or He would not have sent His Son. God the Father, as Father, in Himself has got to be understood and become real for us. It is God’s provision to save us from floundering, from having an it rather than a God, a neutral entity rather than the actual Father, whom Jesus depicted in His every word and gesture and act.
Jesus said, “If you see Me, you see the Father.” God does not want us playing about with an idea about Himself when He desires to be known for what He is in Himself as a distinct aspect of the godhead, the foundation of the Godhead, the Father who sends. When the word is spoken with comprehension and reality, requiring a revelation by which the Father becomes cognizant, and is an object of affection and obedience, then we have come to that reality. It is our supreme privilege to speak, “Our Father, which art in heaven.”
So much is at stake here. What does it take to blow up this invisible barrier where God’s people are just minimally polite and minimally cordial, but are not at a place where there is any real integration, though we are physically in the same building or on the same property together? Is it because there is an inherent suspicion about authority in a man, because it does not trust authority that is given, because it has never really understood and submitted to the authority that is above by the Father who is in heaven, and therefore is disqualified and unable to recognize the authority of the father who is on earth? Is it because they cannot release themselves, because they have had an unhappy relationship with earthly fathers, and therefore are prejudiced against and resistant to any father? There is not going to be the glory of God in the Church until those resistances, those prejudices, those restrictive and intimidating things are shattered. There is a profound and foundational thing that needs to be rectified. Do we know God the Father, do we revere Him, do we have an affectionate regard for Him? To what extent have we either celebrated the Holy Spirit as charismatics, or the Son as evangelicals, and extrapolated them from their greater context in the mystery of the triune Godhead, of whom the Father is pivot and center?
A Pope is a vicar, a vicarious substitute that has actually displaced fatherhood. Catholicism has made an earthly person significant way beyond God’s intention. Why do people need a fleshly image with all of its hyped-up celebration of a human figure? If they had the Hebraic and biblical sense of God the Father, everyone, including the Pope, would be put in their respectful place; they would not be distracted from their true Father in heaven toward a piece of flesh on the earth who does not deserve that kind of acclaim. That is a grotesque distortion, and it comes out of a failure to recognize our Father in heaven.
“Our Father, which is in heaven…” We are actually commissioned and required, in our submission to Jesus, in the honoring of Him, and in receiving grace through Him, to call upon God as Father. How unable we will be to relate to men in the place of authority, how restricted we will be in our own hearts, suspicious and withholding, until we have come to a full recognition and surrender to God as Father. This is not some tyrant who occupies the ultimate throne of heaven to whom we must give regard because we have no choice. There is a place in God in which we can say, “Father” in absolute trust and affectionate regard, with gratitude that He is who He is. He is benevolent, and His greatest benevolence is His chastisement of sons. Where would we be if we had no corrective influence like that, if we could do anything we wanted and no one corrected us or challenged us? We could not be raised as sons, except that we experience the chastisement of a father. This is the heart of fatherhood. What we lack as human fathers and spiritual fathers can only be corrected as we perceive God the Father as He is in Himself, not abstractly, but in truth. Pray to the Father in the Lord’s name, with real respect, real reverence, and real affection.
Transcribed and Edited from the Ben Israel Prophetic School of 2005