The Fatherhood of God

The Eternal Significance of the Lord’s Prayer: Embracing the Fatherhood of God

“The child asks of the Father whom he knows. Thus, the essence of Christian prayer is not general adoration, but definite, concrete petition. The right way to approach God is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“As Christian people we must learn to appropriate by faith the fact that God is our Father. Christ taught us to pray ‘Our Father.’ This eternal everlasting God has become our Father and the moment we realize that, everything tends to change. He is our Father and He is always caring for us, He loves us with an everlasting love, He so loved us that He sent His only begotten Son into the world and to the Cross to die for our sins. That is our relationship to God and the moment we realize it, it transforms everything.” 
Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“When certain concepts are ascribed to God, they are thus not used figuratively but in their first and most original sense. God is not ‘as it were’ a father; He is the Father from whom all fatherhood on earth is derived.”
Hendrikus Berkhof

In July 2023, during the Church of England synod, the Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, questioned the use of the term “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer because of the potentially problematic patriarchal association of the word father. Naturally, this sparked debate both inside and outside the Church of England. Although Cottrell would later seek to clarify his position as the need for sensitivity to those struggling with the term as a result of abuse, avoiding God as Father is not only unwise but also very unhelpful. In this article, we will explore the biblical foundation and eternal significance of the Lord’s Prayer, providing insight into God’s nature as a caring Father who seeks to redeem and heal.

The Lord’s Prayer: A Profound Model for All Believers
The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4 stands as a profound model of prayer given by Jesus Himself. For centuries it has served as an essential guide for believers of all eras, demonstrating the proper attitude and approach to communicating intimately with God. The opening words, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9) establish a vital relational connection between God and His children, inviting us to come before Him as Father. Luke’s account similarly records Jesus teaching His followers to pray by saying “Father, hallowed be your name. Your Kingdom come.” (Luke 11:2). This prayer outlines a posture of reverence, dependency, and trust in God’s character as a loving provider and protector. The Lord’s Prayer remains a timeless model for all believers in relating to God as a compassionate Father.

The Fatherhood of God Reflects His Intimate Care
The specific term “Father” used in the Lord’s Prayer reflects the profoundly personal, relational aspect of God’s character. It signifies His intimate care, compassion, grace, and faithful provision for His children. While some individuals may understandably find the imagery of God’s Fatherhood challenging due to wounds from harsh, abusive, or absent earthly fathers, it is crucial to grasp that God’s perfect Fatherhood infinitely surpasses flawed human associations. As Romans 8:15 expresses, “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Through Christ, God graciously adopts us as His own sons and daughters, inviting us to approach Him with the same intimacy and dependent trust that a small child should express towards their father.

Jesus’ Pattern of Addressing God as Loving Father
The Bible highlights and emphasizes the fact that Jesus consistently taught and encouraged His disciples to reverently approach God as their caring “Heavenly Father.” This repeated parental emphasis in Jesus’ instructions reveals His profound theological awareness and understanding of God’s true nature, along with His great pastoral sensitivity. Jesus knew experientially the depth of God’s loving care for His own as perfect Father. Not only did Jesus always refer to God as Father, but in the Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 6, He specifically instructs His followers to pray “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). Throughout His earthly ministry, He modeled and reinforced this paradigm of relating to God as compassionate Father, inviting His disciples into the same intimate relationship.

Scriptural Authority Surpasses Shifting Cultural Perspectives
The recent passionate debate surrounding the Lord’s Prayer and associated fatherhood terminology highlights a recurring tension in contemporary Christianity. This tension exists between submitting to the unchanging truths and authority of Scripture versus conforming doctrines and practices to align with evolving cultural values and perspectives. While it is certainly essential for the Church to be sensitive and responsive to the painful experiences and sincere concerns of abuse victims, our foundational teachings and convictions should ultimately be rooted in and guided by the eternal wisdom found in God’s Word. As 2 Timothy 3:16 (ESV) declares, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” When cultural influences and biblical truth conflict, Scripture as our highest authority should shape our beliefs. Certainly, God is fully able to redeem every aspect of a believer’s life, including the term, Father. We need only not hinder Him in this work by embracing extra-biblical perspectives and terms or adapting fundamental Christian doctrines in our drive to be seeker-friendly. Better that we introduce the unsaved to the God who is than the god we want Him to be.

Embracing God’s Father-Love and Redemption
The Lord’s Prayer, along with its opening line “Our Father,” holds a central, cherished place in Christian history, worship, and devotion. The profound words remind us as believers of the intimate filial relationship we gain with God the Father through placing our faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. While some may understandably struggle with negative patriarchal associations of God’s fatherhood due to painful wounds and experiences, it is essential that we as the Church grasp and articulate the full biblical revelation of God’s perfect Father-love and nature, which infinitely transcends fallen human fathers and earthly limitations. Even when we are blessed with loving earthly fathers, God’s fatherhood eclipses that love in unfathomable ways, for He is the perfect Father that we all equally need, no matter our family circumstances.
Rather than compromising or downplaying beautiful biblical truths to simply align with contemporary cultural perspectives or societal trends, we have a responsibility as Jesus’ followers to thoroughly understand, embrace, and share the comfort of Father God’s profound care, nurture, grace, and redemption as revealed in Scripture. After all, in the Gospels, Jesus Himself invites us to approach our Maker reverently but with the same familial familiarity and dependent trust of beloved children who know they are cared for by their good Father in heaven.

We will look a little more in-depth into fatherlessness in our next blog The Impact of Fatherlessness: A Call to Biblical Mentorship. Until then, as the Church continues to engage thoughtfully in sensitive discussions surrounding gender, identity, equality, and pastoral care, may we remain anchored in the strong foundation of the Bible’s timeless, eternal truths. By embracing the full significance of the Lord’s Prayer given to us by Jesus, we gain access to deepen our relationship with God as our perfect Heavenly Father. We also gain the capacity to extend His healing redemption to those wounded by broken earthly fathers. May the transformative power of God’s steadfast Father-love shape our lives and worship, as we find refuge, renewal, and sanctification in His open arms.

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