Wednesday, December 30, 2009

How Jesus Saw the Father

For some years I have taught that the Gospels provide three places where the actual Aramaic words of Jesus were remembered and recorded. They are all found in Mark. The first is Talitha, cumi—“Little girl, I say to you, arise” (Mark 5:41). The second is ephphatha—“Be opened!” (Mark 7:34) And the third is Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

It struck me a few months ago very powerfully that there is one more place: “And he said, ‘Abba, …’” (Mark 14:36).

Abba is usually translated “Father”, and is presented as such in the three places where the word is used in the New Testament, but teachers often explain that Abba really means “Papa” or “Daddy”, i.e. what a small child would say to his own father. [However, see the first and second comments to this blogpost.] It is a term that demonstrates personal and familial, trusting intimacy. When we consider that it is how Jesus addressed the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane at the beginning of his Passion, it is deeply moving. He prayed tenderly to his Father that he might be delivered from “the Cup”—and the Father refused. It is only a chapter later that the words, Eloi, eloi, lema sabachthani are recorded. Yet we also know that even this experience was an expression of the Father’s love for his Son and the world into which he had become incarnate in order to save it.

When we are taught that Abba is the term that believers may also use to address God, it proclaims a reality that is nothing less than breathtaking. We find this teaching in Romans 8:15 (“You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’”) and Galatians 4:6 (“Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’”). To think that we sinful human believers can address the Creator of the Universe with such a term tells us something extraordinary about God, and something indescribable about ourselves in relationship with him. It tells us that we are children of God—not just in some sort of sentimental way, but in a reality that is immeasurable.

I don’t think that the term Abba can be adequately translated into English. To address God in prayer as “Papa” or “Daddy” just seems to me so insufficient. Yet how can one “claim” the unique reality of the relationship that is the birthright of the born again? “Father” is truly a very rich form of prayerful invocation, often used both liturgically and personally and rightly so, but Abba means so much more than that. It struck me recently that the word needn’t be translated at all—one may simply address God as Abba. And so I have, when I needed comfort or sought guidance in times of stress, pain, and trouble. It was in such a time that Jesus himself addressed God as Abba. There is nothing inadequate about Jesus’ own word. If it cannot be translated, it can, perhaps, be pictured. To the right is a photograph of one such occasion.

So many, many people were not sufficiently held and hugged when they were children that it shows in their adult lives—sometimes dramatically. My blogpost of over three years ago, Hugs and Kisses, is one of my favorites. It really provides the background to this blogpost. I realize now that genuine, pure affection in Christ’s Name is one meaning of Abba as expressed in this life. In so many ways, it tells us who we really are in Christ. To pray Abba is to know that one is safe, loved, accepted, warm, and fully content in the arms of the One who loves us truly, fully, perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally. Even the best parents, spouses, or friends cannot give that message consistently. When we pray as Jesus did, Abba, when we need it most, we may catch a glimpse of that world where we are truly, fully, perfectly, unconditionally, and eternally loved.