When I was growing up in Oregon I got familiar with some of the major lines of Christmas carols. Some of the lines seemed cheesy and some seemed quite spiritual. Before and after I had my conversion to Christ when I was about 10 I figured there was room for both in what seemed easy enough for me to comprehend: the Son of God was born in Bethlehem and a bit of heaven came to earth in Jesus and those angels. “Hark the herald angels sing…” worked for me with a cute baby with a growing biography.
Years later, I want to use the word “hark” as a mnemonic device for a concept that is also oversimplified: this “Father in heaven” Jesus speaks of. Can such a concept be comprehended? Or is is something in itself that can be apprehended like something one can just get the jist of?
And to unpack this term “Father” can have not only a doctrinal context of ones understanding but an emotional one. St. Theresa of Avila would start the prayer known as “The Our Father” and would stop at Father with a mix of awe and joy that the God of the universe would state that in Him we have a Father. On the other end of the spectrum are clusters of emotional baggage that are too much to list here. Between culture and individual experience the perspectives are based on an earthly perspective of fathers who are abusive, absentee by choice, absentee by the mom’s choice, incompetent or ambiguous on their role.
Life was really not to unlike what I just described in first century Palestine when Jesus begins the meat of his teaching on prayer in the following.
“Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9).
I would like to take you beyond the fray of common misunderstandings of what a father and even a Heavenly Father can be, but I will only be thinking on the coat-tails of Jesus and his understanding of His Father. Much better this way. Thus, back to the HARK.
H is for Holy Father. “And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one” (John 17:11).
This verse is loaded. The context of the prayer was Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane right before he is arrested. He says, “I am no longer in the world” was with Jesus conscious that in such a Garden where the redemptive work of the cross begins there was a distinct level of being set apart for the Father’s will.
While this is the consecration due to the Holy Father, which we will all understand where we face times of elevated brokenness, there is a reciprocal effect of God’s holiness in the impact of unity. “Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one”. Division that undermines unity goes against the holiness of God in that He is one (Deuteronomy 6:4). So if we pray “Our Holy Father” we are consecrating ourselves in brokenness to Him (Colossians 1:24) and thus under He as the shepherd that draws us into unity.
A is for Abba, Father. “He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ (Mark 14:36). Also said in Gethsemane, rightly meaning wine press, Jesus uses the Aramaic equivalent word for Daddy to note how the intimate love is precious. From that Jesus holds dear the knowledge that God is all powerful and His will is intrinsically better than the desires of Jesus’s flesh.
R is for Righteous Father. “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me” (John 17:25). Those who choose darkness over the light because their deeds are evil and they love their deeds more than God do not have a relational knowledge of God. But this access to The Righteous Father, in God’s spiritual family rests on the priesthood of Jesus and His sacrifice.
For us to know God as Father fully rests on the impact of the gospel that Jesus was sent (John 3:16) and that He returned to Him in his priestly role. “about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer “(John 16:10). Jesus continued with this theme of our connection to Righteous Father with words of liturgical connotations, “Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17).
K is for Know The Father. This brings us back full circle. On the other side of Gethsemane. On the other side of The Cross. For those who have been touched by the gospel of God, we can shudder with the same awe and joy of St. Theresa of Avila accordingly. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us with every spiritual blessings in heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).
In this fallen world that we live in, I can understand why someone would say this is good stuff for the head but is not making its way to the heart. I almost put in some more verses to help that happen but I decided against it. Instead I would encourage the reader who struggles with the supposedly mean, patriarchal use of the word “Father” to go to Jesus on that. I include the idea of going to Jesus in prayer if you have not figured who Jesus is yet. But if you follow Jesus to where He dwells, consistently, you will not regret it. And you will know the Father.