The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity
September 15, 2013
“The Fatherhood of God”
“For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” Ephesians 3:14-15
Let us pray: Heavenly Father, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Source of every good gift in heaven and on earth, send us the Holy Spirit, fill us with your love, confirm in us our most holy Christian faith, and give us to see our true dignity and value, not in the approval of the godless, but through the merits of the suffering and death of your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, in whose name we are bold to call you our Father. Amen
The word family comes from the word father. This is more obvious in Greek than it is in English. The reason you have families is because you have fathers. There are no families without fathers, even as there are no bodies without heads. This is why, when a family loses its father, somebody has to step in to assume the father’s duties. An older son, an uncle, a grandfather, or someone else must assume the role of a foster-father.
In recent years, with the decline of marriage and the increase of children born outside of marriage, we have seen the rise of fatherless families. This has signaled the decline of the family in America. While some radical ideologues might argue that fathers are unnecessary because a man and a woman are interchangeable, the reality of day to day life belies that claim. A man is a man and a woman is a woman. Fathers are not mothers and mothers are not fathers. Our generation may be confused about sexual differences – when a people chooses to be ignorant of the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, confusion is always the result – but confusion about what a man is and what a woman is does not change what a man is and what a woman is. God created us male and female in his own image. God never made an androgynous human being. That is to say, you are either male or female. Even as God has decided what a man is and what a woman is, so also God decides to make us either male or female. What God decides is always good.
The abandonment of belief in the Bible has led the leadership of mainline American Protestantism to embrace some rather strange notions about God. Ludwig Feuerbach, an influential German atheist of the 19th century, taught that humanity makes God in its own image. What we say about God is but a projection of our own desires and needs. A hundred and some years later we hear preachers parroting this propaganda. They argue that God is not necessarily Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These designations are but human attempts to describe God. Since calling God “Father” originated during a patriarchal and sexist era when men dominated women keeping them in an inferior position, now that we have progressed beyond such dark ages of male supremacy we can start calling God “Mother” or “Heavenly Parent” or some other name that is not gender specific.
I once heard a sermon on the radio preached by a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in which he said that while we call God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we could as well refer to God as Mother, Lover, and Friend. It is common these days for the Trinitarian formula for Holy Baptism, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost,” to be replaced by, “I baptize you in the name of the Creator, and of the Redeemer, and of the Sanctifier,” as if we may change God’s name at will.
How do we respond to such things? First of all, Jesus said that “God is a spirit,” so any question of God’s bodily characteristics are out of the question, including such bodily differences as exist between a man and a woman. God is a spirit. He doesn’t have a body. Therefore, he doesn’t have a sex. Both Adam and Eve were made in God’s image. This means that boys and girls, men and women, are all made in God’s image. God is not male or female.
But God is the Father. He is not the mother. Nowhere does the Bible call God mother. The Bible calls the Church our mother. But the Bible calls God our Father and Jesus teaches us to address God as, “Our Father.” The Bible uses exclusively male pronouns to refer to God. God is never she. When the Bible speaks in exclusively male terms about God the Bible is not teaching that God has a sex – as if he is a creature and not the Creator – it means that God is our Father. He is not our mother.
The Holy Scriptures must be the source and standard of our teaching about God. Otherwise, we will be lost in confusion and error. From God’s word we see that every family in the world derives its identity as a family from the fatherhood of God. The notion that past generations called God “Father” because of a patriarchal bias is precisely wrong. It’s the other way around. Human fatherhood derives from the fatherhood of God. The father of the home obtains his identity as the father of the home from the fatherhood of God himself.
We sing and confess about Christ: “Of the Father’s love begotten, e’er the worlds began to be.” Before time began; before there was a man or a woman; before any mother conceived and gave birth; God the Father begat God the Son. There was no mother. There was only God. The Father is the Son’s Source. The Son obtains his deity from his Father. Yet, the Father has never existed alone. He has always begotten the Son. The Holy Spirit has always proceeded from the Father and the Son. There was not a time when the Father was not the Father of the Son, even as there was not a time when the Son was not the Son of the Father. The Father speaks through the psalmist the words, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” “Today” is the eternal day, the timeless day extending from eternity to eternity. There is no God but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is no God but the only begotten Son of the Father. And it is the Spirit, the eternal and life-giving Spirit, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who testifies to this truth.
God forbid that the transient enthusiasms of the pop-religious culture should rob Christians of their faith in the one and only God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. God forbid that out of obedience to the demands of political correctness, the Church should fall away from the pattern of sound words by which we confess and worship the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Paul bowed his knees in prayer. Bowing the knees is a bodily display of a spiritual posture. Jesus said, “Whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.” We don’t pray as rude children making demands. We respect our Father in heaven, bowing before him, humbling ourselves before him, and asking him as children ask their father. And how do we know that he will answer our prayers? How do we know that he even hears us or cares what we have to say? He is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The eternal relationship between the Father and the Son is a holy mystery that no mind can fathom. In it is hidden the width, depth, length, and height of God’s love. This love, that passes knowledge, is ours through faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit, who is the Lord and giver of life, is the One who works the Christian faith in our hearts, revealing to us this eternal love.
The fatherhood of God is not a bloodless masonic religious speculation. It is the fundamental truth of all creation. God the Father is Father of the Son by an eternal begetting. The Son is of the same substance as the Father. We are children of God by adoption. The Holy Spirit adopts us in Holy Baptism by washing us in the blood of the Son of God who is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The Father would be the Father of the Son even if the Son did not shed his blood for us all. This is true. But it is inconceivable that the Father, who from eternity loved his eternally begotten Son, would not also love us. It is unthinkable that the Father who loves his Son would deny the Son’s plea for us.
We could not know the fatherhood of God unless his Son shed his blood for us, taking upon himself our sin and our death. The Jesus who walked up to the coffin and touched it, defying death with his almighty word, is the Jesus who brings us the love of our heavenly Father.
Every family in the world gets its identity from God the Father. As St. Paul said to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens:
The human race did not evolve from the primordial slime by a long process of evolution ruled by the implacable laws of the survival of the fittest. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, made from one man all of humanity. Every human being, regardless of race or nationality, is bestowed by God the Father with inherent dignity and value. There is no room for racism among us Christians. Black, white, brown, yellow, red – they may account for much in the judgment of men. They count for nothing in the counsel of God, and it is God’s word that determines for us what we believe.
The fatherhood of God means the value of every single individual human being born in this word. Nobody is an accident. Every child is planned by God. God is the true Father who gives every family its true purpose. It’s tragic that so many Christians fight the culture wars with the secularists without relying on the wisdom of God’s word. They reduce the battle to carnal politicking, as if electing this party or this candidate or adopting this or that social policy will revive and strengthen the American family.
God is no politician and he doesn’t submit to the democratic process. If we Christians care about the health of families in our country the very first thing we need to do is to act as if what we confess about the fatherhood of God is true. If God is our Father, then every father of every family has the God-given duty and privilege of acting as God’s appointed head of the home. When God spoke to ancient Israel, giving his chosen nation his law, he said:
The fatherhood of God is no dead doctrine to be filed away in an obscure corner to be ignored. Every father of every family needs to know it and put it into practice, because God shows himself to be our Father through men. When the eternal Son of the eternal Father became a man he revealed his glory as the only begotten Son of the Father. He visited his people, replacing death with life. Raising the dead he established his authority over death. When he suffered and died on the cross he made peace between God and all of his creation, taking away the sin of the world. He thus destroyed death itself and replaced it with life. This is what God gives fathers to teach their children. When God’s word becomes the language of the family; when we discuss the doings of God, the word of God, the nature of God, and the promises of God with our families; then the fatherhood of God becomes for us the defining truth it truly is and we discover our true dignity. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other God.
Rolf D. Preus