Saturday, April 21, 2018

Fatherhood Expounded

In a previous post, I pointed out that very little is said in the Old Testament about the fatherhood of God. It took the coming of the Son to fully expound the ways in which God’s relationship to believers is paternal.

Or perhaps we have that the wrong way round. Perhaps instead we should say something like this: The human father/child relationship was designed by God to illustrate how he relates to his creations and his creations to him. In other words, we can expect that human fatherhood done right will be “Godly” in character. I don’t think that’s too much to assume.

Either way, until the Son came and made the Father known — not simply as God but in his role as Father — only a very small number of the faithful understood God’s parental care for his people, and only in the most limited of ways.

When we take for granted the tremendous privilege and access we enjoy as a result, sliding over the word “Father” in our Bibles as if it is little more than a synonym for Creator, Lord or deity, we do both ourselves and God a grave disservice, not to mention the Lord Jesus, who was at such pains to make the Father known ... as Father.

The Right to Become Children

I should stop here to point out that Jesus never taught that God is the father of mankind generally: he taught that God is uniquely father to those who believe. This is one reason, surely, that he spoke of the necessity for a new birth, while simultaneously dismissing the Pharisees’ claims to be children of God as false.

In short, the idea that there is a common “brotherhood of mankind” and that God is their father is not a biblical notion. The right to become children of God belongs only to those who believe in the name of Jesus, God’s Christ. Nobody starts out that way.

A Jaw-Dropper

It is likely impossible to determine which came first out of Jesus’ many references to God as not just his own Father but as Father to all who believed in him, but to many who heard him that very first time it must have been a jaw-dropper.

Though it is never explicit, the fatherhood of God could indeed be inferred from the Old Testament if that was all we had. If it could not, the Pharisees would hardly have dared to claim such a status (though their claim, it seems, was corporate and national rather than individual: the idea that a mere man might make the claim to Sonship in a personal sense was considered blasphemy; they took that as tantamount to equality with God).

With that in mind, even accounting for the variety of interpretations and schools of thought extant in any religious system, it seems highly unlikely that even the most pious first century Jew would have presumed to call himself a child of God.

A worshiper of Jehovah, sure. But a child of God? Not likely.

No One Knows the Father Except the Son ...

Onto this scene now comes Jesus, declaring to those who believe in him that:
That should do for a sample, at least.

Gleaning and Harvesting

Now, it’s entirely possible that a devout Old Testament believer, carried along by the Holy Spirit in times past, may have come to one or more of these truths about God independently of one another and perhaps even independently of thinking about God’s fatherhood at all. Some did just that.

For example, Solomon well understood that God is watching (“The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good”), but his all-seeing God in Proverbs is often more judge and avenger than loving parent.

Likewise, like all ancient men of faith, David understood that God is a rewarder (“You will render to a man according to his work”). But the reward of a overjoyed father is of a different character than any mere trophy or judicial commendation.

But whatever truths about the Father may have been intuited by the godly prior to the coming of the Lord Jesus, it remains incontestably the case that “no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Moses saw God’s glory, but he didn’t know him as Father. Ezekiel and Isaiah saw God enthroned, but they didn’t know him as Father. God sent fire from heaven at the request of Elijah, but the prophet never knew God as his Father.

The saints of previous centuries were scratching up mere grains of truth from the edges of a great field in anticipation of the magnificent harvest of heartwarming, confidence-building, faith-sustaining knowledge we enjoy today thanks to the coming of the Lord Jesus.

Don’t take that harvest for granted.

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