When I meet with people for spiritual direction or discipleship coaching, one of the first reflection exercises I walk them though is to answer these two questions:
- How do you see (or picture) God?
- How does God see (or view) you?
The second question deals with our spiritual identity. The first question unveils what we think, feel, and believe about God’s identity.
Googling God in Art
Recently I googled the phrase “God pictures.” Most of the images that were generated depicted images of God as a distant, old white-bearded man who looked extremely ticked off. Next, I searched for “Jesus pictures,” and interestingly, most of the depictions of Jesus revealed softer and more compassionate moments.
Even believers tend to see God in the Old Testament as a terrifying judge or an extremely angry ruler while envisioning Jesus as the good version of God. Did God change somehow from the Old Testament to the New Testament? Did God get “saved” somewhere in the 400 years between Malachi and The Gospel of Matthew?
No! Of course not.
It is not God who is changing; it is our view of God that changes.
And Jesus wants to change how we picture and relate to God radically!
Jesus’ Radical Revelation
One day the disciples approached Jesus and asked him if he would teach them how to do something. What is so striking is what they requested Jesus to teach them.
The disciples did not ask Jesus to train them how to preach, raise the dead, heal the sick, or cast out demons – things that they had witnessed Jesus do with incredible power.
Instead, they asked Jesus to teach them how to pray (see Luke 11:1). But why this request? Why did they ask Jesus to tutor them in prayer? As part of the Jewish nation, they would have already received very detailed instructions on how to pray from their parents and also from teachers in the synagogue.
I believed they asked Jesus to educate them on how to pray because, after being with him continually and seeing not only His public life but private life also, they realized that there was a dimension to Jesus’ prayer life that was absent from what they had been taught and experienced in their Jewish culture.
Jesus enthusiastically responded to their request by giving them a powerful model for prayer (see Luke 11:2-4). The first teaching point that Jesus shared with them involved the way they were to address God in prayer. Jesus instructed them to pray to the Father. “When you pray, say: ‘Father . . .’” (Luke 11:2).
If we would have been present that day when Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, we, along with His disciples, would have been completely shocked. You would have heard the whispering of, “What did he just say? Address God as ‘Father?’” A sense of confusion and bewilderment would have marked many faces.
When Jesus introduced the concept of addressing God as “Father” in prayer, he birthed a radical, new idea in the minds of the disciples.
Interestingly, Jesus did not direct them to begin their prayers by “Our God” or “Our Jehovah who is in heaven.” Rather, Jesus taught his disciples to simply pray to “Our Father.” Of all the words and titles for God that Jesus could have used to initiate this model prayer for His disciples, he chooses the word for “Father.”
When God was referred to as Father in the Old Testament, it was always used as a title for God in a corporate sense over the nation of Israel. It was not a proper name of God used by an individual person who was talking to God. As a result, the concept of God being a personal Father was not a firmly established theological consideration of the Jewish people.
Jesus used the Aramaic word “Abba.” Aramaic was the everyday language Jesus and the people of Israel spoke during his time on the earth. The word “Abba” was the term that children were taught to use concerning their father. It has the translation equivalent as “daddy.” It is a very intimate term of the relationship between a child and his or her father. Therefore, by using this one word “Abba”, Jesus completely shattered people’s image and opinion of God by transforming how they perceived God – that God is our daddy.
Jesus also rocked the religious establishment by continuously referring to God as “Abba” throughout His life even up to the cross. Jesus used the term “Father” 165 times in teaching His followers how to perceive and relate to God correctly.
Misperceptions of God as Father
Unfortunately, many of us struggle relating to God as our Father. Every person’s own experience with human authority is usually transferred to how they relate to God. Good experiences bring us closer to knowing and understanding God, just as bad experiences create distorted pictures of God being our Father. Even though no one has a perfect earthly father, some of our wrong views of God as Father result from experiencing:
- An abusive father
When people have experienced the horror of an abusive father figure, they tend to have a hard time seeing God as loving, gentle and affectionate, and instead view God as angry and being against them.
- An absent father
If as a child your father was mostly absent from your life, then you might tend to see God as distant and uninvolved in your life rather than God being present and fully engaged with you.
- A controlling father
When the memories of a controlling dad mark a person’s childhood, they can embrace a perspective of God as a demanding father who requires performance and perfection to be accepted rather than seeing and receiving the unconditional love and grace of God
- An emotionally detached father
Perhaps your father was around as you grew up, yet he was emotionally distant from you. As a result, you may have a hard time picturing God as compassionate, caring, and attentive, and instead, you tend to see God as indifferent and uncaring towards you.
God is our Abba
By using the term “Abba”, Jesus is helping us to correct our perception of God from One who is distant, angry and judgmental to One who is a close, loving, and accepting Father.
God desires for us to walk in the true knowledge of who he is to see him as our daddy.