Tuesday, March 22, 2011


As we continue our little musings on prayer, I thought it important to take a moment and clarify a point I made yesterday regarding the opening petition of the Lord's Prayer. Specifically, the highlighted section in what follows:
Quite apart from contemporary ideological discussions on the word choice, which are important as a matter of communal reflection on our own brokenness, and should always be a part of our prayer life, the opening petition of the Lord's Prayer already contains within it both the honest humility of the sinner and the boldness of faith through grace; approaching the throne of God and daring to speak in that way, to address the unknown and unknowable Creator as "Father" is to declare the mystery of salvation in two short words, to live out the possibility presented to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
It is important to remember that Jesus invites us in to a radically new relationship with God through this daring word-choice. Of all the ways to address God, calling God, "Father", introduces a level of intimacy in our relationship with God that should draw us up short, make us pause each time we utter it. This is, after all, the God who is in heaven, whose Name is to be hallowed. Yet, we boldly, humbly dare to address God as "Our Father".

Yet, in our day and age, the word "father" has become a problem. It isn't too hard to think of people whose relationships with their fathers is, well, less than satisfactory. In fact, I can think of people who have no relationship at all with their fathers, either because their fathers were absent, or were abusive in some way. Very often, this can translate for some in to problems addressing God as "Father". After all, if one's experience of "Father" is either of absence or abuse, who wants God to be like that?

This leads to a situation in which the term of address in the initial petition becomes a matter of concern, even controversy. When I was in seminary, two decades ago (which makes me feel old . . .), our academic Dean, a systematic theologian who should have known better, would, for example, use "Father/Mother" in the Trinitarian formula. That usually made my fillings ache. I also knew a pastor who, during the congregational recitation of the Lord's Prayer, would begin her petition with, "Our Mother."

The invitation to address God as "Father" is problematic for many today for reasons that differ from ways it was problematic in the time of Jesus. Then, it was the intimacy implied by the form of address. As St. Paul says, we are to call upon God using the Aramaic idiom "Abba", connoting familiarity. In our day and age, all too often this intimacy is betrayed in people's experiences with their fathers, leaving a bad taste in the mouth when we turn to God and call upon our Heavenly Father.

All the same, I think it imperative that we not shrink, in this instance, from using that particular title. We must, even in the midst of our fear, our anger at the ways our fathers hurt and betray our trust and love, have the faith and courage, by addressing God as "Our Father" to make the claim that in this Father we have one who will never betray us, never leave us alone, who loves us beyond all imagining, all comprehension.

We should also do this address in the full knowledge that it is a problem. We should use it with a penitential heart, asking forgiveness for the many ways we have made it difficult for so many to say to God, "You are our Father." Even this most intimate, essential relationship is broken by sin. By calling upon God as Father we are not only claiming a relationship of utmost particularity; we are also confessing the ways that earthly relationship is broken. For that reason, I think it necessary to always pray, in the Lord's Prayer, to Our Father, who is in heaven.

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