Names are awesome things. They help identify us, but they also build our identity.
My name is Moses. For many people I am the only Moses they know and it is easy for them to identify me because of my name (thanks to my parents). But it is more than just a name for me. It is a part of my identity and it would be very difficult for me to simply change my name to Charles or Roberto. My name is not only Moses. I am Moses.
There are so many names that people use when talking about God in the Bible, throughout history, and today. These names are very important because they say something about who God is. Or perhaps better put, people have used descriptive words about God as names for Him. He is our saviour, healer, creator, sustainer, provider, etc. These characteristics of God have become names for God.
Names for God worked like this in the Bible as well. People saw God (Yahweh or Jehovah) as their healer and called Him “Jehovah-Rapha". They also saw God as their provider and called Him “Jehovah-Jireh”. The names for God are often descriptive words that have to do with His character and who He is. We call Him “Almighty” because He is almighty. If he wasn’t always that, we wouldn’t be able to call Him that.
One of the names for God that I use most often is “Father.” I use it when I pray, in song, when talking about God, etc. Jesus refers to the Father all the time. The prayer He taught us to pray begins with calling God “Father”. I would most often describe the Trinity as the Father, son and Holy Spirit. But when I pray to God, my Father, I never think that I am only praying to one part of the Trinity. I am simply praying to God and all He is.
But why “Father”?
Yes, the Bible uses that name. Yes, Jesus used it too. But what gives us the right to use it and call God “Father”?
First of all, I need to make clear that calling God Father, or even using the masculine pronoun has nothing to do with the gender of God. I know there are some Christians for whom it is important to think of God as a male, and that the idea that perhaps God is not, or that maybe He is female, is heresy. I’m not going to get into it here, but personally, I see no fruit in conversations of the gender of God. To me, that is putting God in a very small box and using human terms to limit who He is. God is a being. I believe that His clearest revelation to us is in Jesus Christ, but that does not mean that God is a male. I do not use the male pronoun to make any kind of statement about who God is in terms of gender.
So, who gives us the right to call God “Father”? Simply put, God did.
In Galatians, Paul writes about the nature of grace, salvation, and what it means to live by the Spirit. He talks about the hope and promise that believers in Jesus have, and in Galatians 4:4-6 (NIV), Paul writes:
But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.”
Calling God “Father” has nothing to do with His gender. It has everything to do with our relationship with Him. The name “Father” implies family. God, in His infinite mercy and grace has given us the possibility to be a part of His family. Through Jesus, He has made the way for us to be adopted as children. We are not subjects, slaves, or accidents. We are children of the almighty God. Because we are children, God has sent the same Spirit of Jesus into our hearts. And so, we have the privilege and the right to call out to God in the same way Jesus did, calling God our Father.
That says a lot about the kind of relationship we can have with God. In my mind, there is no stronger tie than that of a family (I know that not all people experience that). I can be myself with my family. I can tell them anything. I can argue with them and still feel loved. I am closest with my family and they know me better than any other humans. What I believe this name of God tells me is that I can have the same kind of relationship with God and where my family fails to be family, God does not. Our relationship with Him is one that is intimate, loving and full of grace.
God as “Father” means that He cares for me, looks out for me, provides for me, teaches me, disciplines me, forgives me, and loves me. Being a child of God means that I am dependent on God, that I can be close to God, that I can always come to Him, and that I am wanted. A birth parent has no choice in what child they get. An adopted parent does. They adopt because they want to. God had adopted us because He wants us.
For some people I know, the term Father isn’t intimate enough to describe the relationship they have (or long to have) with God. They believe that if Jesus were living in our day, instead of using the word “Abba” to call out to God, He may have used the word “Daddy”. And so, they too, not only think of God as their Father, but call Him “Daddy”. I love that.
To be a child of God, adopted into the family, is the apex of my identity. There is no place I would rather be than in the family where I can know God so intimately and where I can call Him “Father.”