Simon Ponsonby, from St. Aldates Church in Oxford is leading the Main Bible Teaching at Spring Harvest this week, and he’s kicking off today with the Unfathomable Father.
Looking at God as creator, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; and also looking at what is the nature of belief. In the Creed is condensed the Father of the Universe, we over the next few hours will be able to highlight some of the words.
I Believe in God the Father Almighty
Before God created the universe he was already the Father, that’s why the Creed puts this preface at the start. It is part of his nature, it is his definition. The overflow of his fathering is poured out before us. Providing, delighting, wonderful father. Many of us struggle with this, and one of the things God wants to do is to renew our affection and understanding of God’s love for us. No one is more thrilled that you are here than God – he wants to spend time with you, and he wants to delight in you.
Little while ago a man came to see Simon, worked as a Verger at the church, had had a colourful previous life including drugs and jail. He thought God wanted him to become a Vicar, so Simon asked the guy to share more of his story. on holiday he was was aware that he had been saved, that God had been wonderful to him, and yet still felt there was something missing, a sense of emptiness. Friends prayed for him, they went to a charismatic event in a barn, during the worship time he was on his knees calling out “what is the key”. Someone else who he didn’t know walked in front of him, and walked to the barn door, pulled out a wrought iron key, and then put the key on his neck, “this is the key – you are my son and I love you”.
Three simple points – a baptist heritage!
A Cry for a Father
There is a fundamental cry, aching and longing for God as Father. If you’ve seen Cider House Rules, set in the 1940s in an American orphanage, following the children as they come of age. A couple arrive in an open top car to adopt; all the girls are lined up in height. At the ned of the row is a new born baby which they pick. Then the scene changes to a 11 year old lad looking out of the window as the car drives away, he’s asked are you going somewhere, no, he’d packed his suitcase hoping someone would take him. “They wanted a girl” he responded with “no one wants me, nobody has ever asked.”
That image somehow prophetically gets to the heart of the human condition. Waiting on the landing with a suitcase packed, waiting, longing for God to take us home. We’re aware of waiting for something but we can’t put words on it.
Since Eden there has been a deep and profound sense of abandonment within the human soul and a fear of rejection, then a rejection of ourselves and others. We don’t know what it is and what will satisfy its need, we try all kinds of things to fill the hole. We try with intimacy in relationships, promiscuity for fleeting momentary pleasures, self-love through driving ambition, achievement, acquisition of goods, others hit out angrily at the world.
Man speaking to 70 lads in prison asked how many of you ever heard your dad say I love you – not one! In that sense of absence of a father figure they find a substitute father as a gang leader and end up doing crime.
God wants to meet us on the landing with our suitcase packed. We are made for God our father.
Many of us struggle to understand God as Father, e.g. feminists suggest there is a power play, deifying masculine and women are pushed aside – sadly this has happened within the church. Paul calls all of us sons of God whether male or female – it is a place of privilege and inheritance. In the same way men are called to be the Bride of Christ!
Freud argued that God was like the little girls made up friend. He understood that we project onto God the experience we have with our earthly father. If we struggle in our earthly relationship it affects our Godly relationship. We can cope with God as almighty, saviour, etc., but not God as father. Not easy to appreciate your adoption by God, Abba, Father, if you were an unwanted child. Not easy when your dad beat your mum, when your parents divorced and dad left, if you were sent off to boarding school, if dad was more interested in work or your achieving sibling. Then we live in fear, we don’t draw near, we become perfectionists, we don’t want to hang out with him.
A man was called “Stupid number 5” until he was in his thirties. God never spoke those words. He wants to heal these situations. If this was your experience as a father you know you shouldn’t but it is repeated.
Your father at worst bears no resemblance to God and at best is a poor resemblance of God. This is the number one point of contact for the gospel in our society today. We need to have apologetics to deal with Dawkins and Hitchens etc., but fundamentally the question is normally if there is a God is he like my dad because he and I didn’t get on.
There is a Cry of the Father
There is a longing in the divine heart for us. The Father wants to father us. Ever since Eden, and the dislocation enters into human life God also felt it. God said “Adam where are you” before Adam spoke, it’s not like he didn’t know where they were. Is God hiding from them, they’ve moved away from God, God is moving towards them. The calling out is a sense of loss and pain that ripped the heart of God. No one ever adopted reluctantly. There was an overflow in your heart, space in your relationship and home and you had to adopt, you had to do it, even going through all the hoops. God can’t wait to adopt you, he went to hell and back seeking his heirs.
Luke 15 – the prodigal son, or the prodigal affections of the Father. The son offends his father, wishing he was dead so he could get his inheritance. He squanders the share of the inheritance, ending up feeding pigs, for a Jewish boy this is a bad story. He is starving, longing to feed his gut with the food he feeds the pig. He comes to his senses, even the servants are treated better than this. When he was still far off, his Father saw him – was it an accident – every day the Father felt the loss of the son, every day looking for his Son. He sees him, picks up his skirt and runs to him and then smacks him in the mouth – no! He hugged him and kissed him – there is no sense of the son causing shame and bringing dishonour on the family.
When we come to God we come saying we’re not worthy, make us a servant. But God has all the servants he wants through the angels. He gets the best robe, they always kept a great robe spare for honoured guests. Then they throw a party and kill the fattened calf. The fattened calf was looked after whilst the son was away; the butcher comes each week offering top price and the father says it isn’t for sale, it is for the sun. The only person gutted apart from the older brother was the calf!
The nature of the human condition is feeding pigs and your gut is empty; the nature of God is we throw a party an eat BBQ ribs. The older brother can’t cope with that. The father says to him, “son, you are always with me, always near me, always for you and towards you, you could have had the fattened calf, the butcher couldn’t but you could.” The older brother had a servant mentality, he was the son but acted like a slave.
Calvin said the Spirit is the Spirit of Adoption. The Romans looked to adopt children because they weren’t sure who were their children. They would look for great leaders, warriors etc. Many of the Emperors were adopted, given inheritance that wasn’t originally theirs. Paul says you can have this with God. You can have his inheritance.
There is a Cry, Oh My Father
Romans 8 speaks about the Spirit, the instrument by which we cry Abba, Father. We also read about this in Galatians 4:6. The word in Greek means to cry, to shriek, a welling up, an involuntary ecstatic exclamation. C.H. Dodd said when people are filled with the spirit and cry Abba Father it is a charismatic experience. So often we major on the minor – tingling, falling over – we need to focus on the birth title.
This is the unique thing. The Ancient Greeks had no concept of God as Father. None are specifically father. In Islam there are 90 names for Muhammed but none are father. Orthodox Jews call God “the name”, they wouldn’t dare to call him father as it would constrain God. The Rabbi Paul could say Abba Father is extraordinary. Jesus invites us into the relationship he has eternally with God. The nearest to Father is daddy, children.
The Spirit gives us the revelation. The Preacher can preach until the cows come home but it won’t make sense of take place without the spirit. This is a need in the world and in the church.
In 2 Timothy 1: “I know whom I have believed”, do we know the Father’s love, that he wants to say “come away with me”.
In Romans 8 and Galatians 4:6 both talk about slavery to fear. When we know God as Father we won’t be gripped by fear. Many are gripped by fear, you’ve walked around yourselves with trumpets seven times, you’ve been ghost busted, you’ve done prayer and pilates, and a whole load more. Ask God to fill him with his Spirit and to free you.
Luther Vandross wrote I want to dance with my father, he lost his father as a child and expressed his thoughts in it. We need God as Father