2010-01-17 (pm) Lord’s Day 46 Our Father Who Is in Heaven
Are you fascinated by people’s perception of God? What is your perception of God like? How do you think of God? Is he an angry taskmaster to you? Is he a loving Father? Is he a grandfatherly type?
Throughout history, people have tried to picture God. We have Michelangelo’s famous painting of God and Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. God is intently looking at Adam, reaching out to him. Adam is reclining, not really looking at God, but still reaching his hand out toward him.
People have tried to describe God’s attributes, his love, his personality. A very popular description of God these days is found in William Paul Young’s book The Shack. In The Shack, Young describes God the Father as a large African-American woman named Papa, Jesus a Jewish looking guy and the Holy Spirit as a thin oriental woman.
Contrast that picture with the Belgic Confession:
In keeping with this truth and Word of God
we believe in one God, who is one single essence, in whom there are three persons,
really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties—
namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
is the cause, origin, and source of all things, visible as well as invisible.
is the Word, the Wisdom, and the image of the Father.
The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Nevertheless, this distinction does not divide God into three, since Scripture teaches us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each has his own subsistence distinguished by characteristics—yet in such a way that these three persons are only one God.
It is evident then that the Father is not the Son and that the Son is not the Father, and that likewise the Holy Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son.
Nevertheless, these persons, thus distinct, are neither divided nor fused or mixed together.
For the Father did not take on flesh, nor did the Spirit, but only the Son.
The Father was never without his Son, nor without his Holy Spirit, since all these are equal from eternity, in one and the same essence.
There is neither a first nor a last, for all three are one in truth and power, in goodness and mercy.
Contrast The Shack with the Lord’s Prayer, “our Father who is in heaven.” In The Shack, the main character, Mackenzie meets the Trinity. Young effectively takes the Father out of heaven.
There are other issues with that book, for a helpful review of it, go to Challies.com.
What we see in the world today, even among some well intentioned Christians, is a poor understanding of who God is.
Often, when people criticise God in the public square, they reveal their ignorance regarding God. Many quote Epicurus, a Greek philosopher who was born 341 years before Christ. Epicurus wrote:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
The answer to Epicurus, and to all who are ignorant of God is to understand God as Father. Is not a human father willing to prevent evil, but not able? Even if a human father were omnipotent, able to prevent evil, would he at time choose not to prevent it? Sometimes, as parents we allow our children to make mistakes, even allow evil to happen, in order that they may learn. That hardly makes us malevolent.
We call God, “God” because he is the only rational explanation for the existence of the world. We call him Father, because that is how he has revealed himself to us, through his Son.
Every human being is innately able to relate to God. Every human being has a father. Granted, not all fathers are true fathers. Some contribute their genetic material, but split before the baby is born. Some are abusive. Some are incompetent. The vast majority are very good fathers.
But even if a person grows up without a father present in their lives, they still interact with fathers. Even if a person doesn’t have a good father, they can still know what a good father is like, and they will more than likely have friends who have good fathers.
Jesus, in teaching us to pray, deliberately teaches us to address God as Father. God is a Father; Jesus is his Son. Jesus called God Father, and since we are Jesus’ brothers and sisters, then it makes sense to call God Father—because God the Father has adopted us as sons and daughters.
Thus, there is a way of understanding who God is. He is a Father to us. Like a good earthly father, God will not deprive us of our daily nourishment, nor will he try to deceive us. Jesus uses the illustration of bread—the main dish, and fish, a side dish. No self-respecting father, when asked for bread would give his son or daughter a stone, which only looked like a loaf of bread. Nor would a good father give his son a snake instead of a fish.
If, people who are born into sin, who are, totally depraved, are able to do good things, then how much more is our perfect Father in heaven? God is not only able, but he is also willing.
But like any father, he expects his children to ask. Non believers refuse to relate to God. They refuse to accept him as he has revealed himself to be. They don’t want a heavenly Father. Instead, they make God after their own image. They make God into an evil dictator, or a wrathful judge, or a doddering old man.
Jesus reminds us of who we are in relation to God. We are not God. Therefore, we must humble ourselves. We must not think too highly of our wisdom and understanding before God, but come to him as a child, full of trust, full of confidence in God’s provision.
When we come before God, we come full of faith that he will answer our prayers. God won’t give us our every heart’s desire, for he is a Father, not a genie. Just as earthly fathers know what is best for their children, or try to do what is best for their children, neither depriving them nor spoiling them, God our father knows what’s best for us.
He doesn’t deprive us of anything we need, indeed, he gives us his Holy Spirit, and he has already given us every spiritual blessing in Christ. It is helpful to think of God as Father, isn’t it? Because, even though our fathers and mothers might put us through difficulties, even though at the time we think they are being just horrid, later in life we see that they really did have our best interests at heart.
God perfectly parents us. He is completely aware of all our needs. He will give us the very best. Sometimes, perhaps many times, we won’t see it. We may not even understand it this side of heaven. But one day, everything will be explained.
The second question of this Lord’s Day focuses on the location of God our Father. God is in Heaven. This is important, as we’ve seen already. God is enthroned on high. God is King of kings and Lord of lords. God is sovereign. Nothing surprises him. Nations rise and fall at his command. People do his bidding. Even Satan is unable to do anything without first getting God’s permission.
Because God is in heaven, he is perfectly positioned to administer to our needs. God is not dependent upon us to provide anything for him. God was content to live in a tent, but his love for his servant David allowed his Son to build him a permanent structure, the temple.
And yet, it was nothing to God to have the temple destroyed, because his glory and honour were not wrapped up in it. God doesn’t need this building to give himself glory and honour. He already has it all. He doesn’t even need us. And yet he created us, he ordains us to give him praise and glory!
So, when we think of God, we must remind ourselves that we are created in his image, not the other way around. The concerning thing about books like The Shack is that it misrepresents God. It does not present God in the way that he chose to reveal himself. Thus, if a person is unable to exercise thoughtful discernment, a book like The Shack can do more harm than good.
How is this possible? It makes God too earthly. It removes too much of God’s heavenly majesty. God becomes cute with sayings like, “The big guy upstairs. Jesus is my homey etc.” There’s a lack of awe, a lack of respect, a lack of understanding of who God is.
And where there’s a lack of who God is, there’s a lack of understanding of what God can do.
Think about stages of development. Young children have a huge appreciation for their parents. They think they can do anything! Then they go to school and develop a great appreciation for their teachers. They begin to think that their teachers are so wise and wonderful. Then, during the teenage years they think that they know everything. Then, when they have their own children, they understand how little they know, and they begin to appreciate their parents a lot more again.
You can even see similar things in faith. People new to the faith are so convinced of God’s power and might. They trust him with every facet of their lives. Then, as they grow older, they learn more, and they being to think that there are some pretty wise teachers out there, who really ought to know the truth, and they willingly follow. Then, as they hit the teenage years, they think they can teach God a thing or two. They are confident in themselves, their abilities, and their knowledge. Then, as they grow older and wiser, they begin to see how much God is at work in their lives.
Jesus’ prayer teaches us to humble ourselves before God. He teaches us to understand God’s love for us. He teaches us to seek and ask God for all our needs. Jesus teaches us that we may not get everything we desire, but God will bless us with exactly what we need and when we need it.
Jesus teaches us to trust in our Heavenly Father as a child trusts his earthly father. A young child, under the age of two, will laugh and giggle when tossed high in the air, even though if they fell to the floor they would get very hurt. They laugh and giggle because they trust their father to catch them.
We are in our Father’s hands. We can boldly approach God and ask him for our daily needs. We can approach and know that God will supply them all. We may not get what we want, but we will get what we need.
If a loved one is sick, and the elders have prayed and laid hands and anointed with oil, and still he remains ill. The we must know that God, through the Holy Spirit, has already given us everything we need to cope. We know this, because it is God himself who places that childlike trust in us.
This week, this week of prayer for Christian Unity, boldly approach God and ask for things in faith. Pray and ask. Trust and believe. Know and receive. You are a child of God. He is your Father in heaven. He is willing, and able to give you your greatest need—himself! Amen.