The births of each of our children has moved me to tears. Each time, all of our attention was focused on the birthing process itself, on my wife's struggle to move this tiny new body out of her own. And yet when the event was accomplished, there was a tear-filled mixture of relief and awe at this new life.
Parenting has given me new insight into the fatherhood of God which wasn't accessible to me before I became a father myself. People talk about the "proud papa" of a new child. But, for me, pride did not come until later. Pride was the result of being present as the personalities and gifts of our children began to become evident. As they threw themselves joyfully into their childhood endeavors, I became proud of these little tykes and the gift they are to the world.
Father John Catoir, former head of The Christophers, titled one of his books God Delights in You. "Delight" is the best word I have found to express my attitude towards my own children. And Catoir's insights have helped to re-form my understanding of how God looks at his people.
God is not indifferent. He cares about everything we do, not with the cold suspicion of a police officer, but with a warmth and intimate caring. God treasures us and he shares in our joys and sorrows.
When Jesus said we should call God "our Father," it was perhaps the most radical statement of all time. Our first sense of when we come into God's presence is that we are unworthy, that God is so far beyond us, so infinitely greater than we are, that we are not fit to be in God's presence.
Addressing God as Father shatters that distance between us. While not denying God's greatness, it brings God close to us. It establishes a relationship, indeed, a loving relationship. The omnipotent lawmaker God dissolves, to be replaced by a God who is as close to us as we are to our own children.
St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome that when we cry out "Abba! Father!" it affirms that we are children of God (8:15-16). God has welcomed us into his family; he has given us a share in his own life. He invites us into his home. This is a shocking revelation to a people who saw themselves as God's slaves.
One astute observation by Pope John Paul is that "Original sin attempts to destroy fatherhood" (Crossing the Threshold of Hope, p. 228). Indeed, one might interpret original sin as being rooted in a view of God as jealous, protective of his own power. The tempter is one who falsely portrays the relationship between God and humanity as that of a master to a slave. Once the picture is distorted in this way, the slave can be easily led to fear the master. He rebels, attempting to overthrow God's power and replace it with his own.
Jesus came to restore the relationship to its rightful order. He came, not to lead the slaves in rebellion, but as the Son of the Father. He came to restore lost community between God and humanity. He came to abolish fear by offering us a relationship as God's adopted children.
Understanding this is essential to a Christian life of prayer. Evangelical pastor Steve Brown writes, "One of the major reasons so many people don't have a fulfilling prayer life is because they haven't understood that the essential nature of prayer is communication between a child and its father" (Approaching God, p. 51).
Instead of trying to control God and our world through prayer, we need to become like little children. Powerless, trusting, vulnerable. We need to accept that our salvation lies in God, not in our own efforts. We must rely on Daddy and stop trying to control things. With such an outlook one will always be able to turn even the greatest suffering into a source of goodness.
Moreover, we must see that God views us as the ideal parent views his children. He is always ready to forgive, slow to discipline, ever-hopeful of welcoming home the most prodigal son. God delights in our efforts to draw closer to him and to do good. It is only right that we should address him as "Our Father.
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