Trusting our Heavenly Abba: A View from Parenthood

fathers day

“It will be all right. Trust me.”

“No, you can’t have that.”  

“Wait. Not right now.”

Do you remember your parents saying these words to you? If you are a parent, you know them all too well or you will soon enough. My own kids have heard them on numerous occasions. To me the truth of the matter is so clear, but does it stop them from worrying, begging, and doubting? It’s less amusing to me than frustrating at times, and yet so often when I’ve tried reasoning with them, I’ve heard the voice of another Father echoing in my head, “And, Michael, have I not said the same to you?”

When the disciples asked Jesus how they should pray, the first words He gave to them were “Our Father who art in heaven.” In Aramaic, the language spoken by Jesus, the word was Abba. Paul uses the phrase “Abba, Father” in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6 to indicate an intimate relationship we have – both individually and collectively – with God through faith in Christ and the Holy Spirit who dwells in and with us. 

There are only a few times in the Old Testament where God is called Israel’s “Father” (Isaiah 63:16-17; 64:8-9), and more instances where the people of Israel are referred to as His son (Deuteronomy 14:1-2; Psalm 103:13; Hosea 11:1). So although it was not unheard of, it was uncommon – that is, until the coming of Jesus who invites His followers to call upon God as our heavenly Father (Matthew 6:8).

It is often said that our perception of God as Father can be helped or harmed by what kind of earthly father we’ve had, and it is natural for us to view God from the perspective of being a child. So fathers bear a tremendous responsibility to image God rightly to their children in this regard, and it is grieving to know there are those who have been without a caring father in their lives.   

It has been especially illuminating for me to view God as Father through the experience of being a father to my own kids. Whether as a father or mother, parenthood provides an incomparable perspective into the heart of our God. 

A key truth in the idea of God as Father is the special relationship that is enjoyed by all His sons and daughters who are in Christ by faith and reborn by the Spirit. It is not to everyone in the world that the benefit of “all things work for good” is promised but only to them that “love God and are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28). 

When I consider my own kids, I know without a doubt that my relationship to them is special. My love and care for them is rightly distinguished from all other children as is their responsibility to especially honor their mom and me. Of course, we know God demonstrates a general care toward all mankind made in His image as He creates life, food, and joy for all (Acts 14:17). However, just as in the ancient world a father’s inheritance was passed on to his sons, the children of God in Jesus Christ have privileges of unique attention, guidance, and care as adopted members of their heavenly Father’s royal family.

It upset the Jewish leaders when Jesus said “My Father” or identified Himself as the “Son of God” as if to set Himself apart from and above everyone else in Israel. But Jesus’ relationship to the Father was unique as was the Father’s love for His only beloved Son (Matthew 3:17), but through faith in Jesus we, too, are welcomed to share in this mystery of their eternal love (John 17:20-23) – and among the benefits is getting to call God our “Abba, Father.”

If you are in Christ, allow that truth to hit you. Do you believe the Father loved His Son? Know that as a Father to you He loves you with the same everlasting love. How sure, then, is His promise that He is for you and for your good that He loves us even as His own Word made flesh!

The following words my own father once shared with me in reflecting on this precious reality: 

The children of the King have a deeper and more profoundly intimate relationship with their Father than do the mere subjects of that King. True it is that these children are also His subjects as He does exercise His reign over them as well as the everyday subjects. But there is a whole other world of relationship involved as he trains them and seeks their individual development. His own children simply have a matchless and extraordinary relationship with their Father that no ordinary subject can ever experience.

With such love, our heavenly Father desires us to trust His wisdom in the way He decides to answer all our petitions – whether His answer is “trust me, don’t be afraid,” “no, that’s not good for you,” or “wait, you don’t need that right now.” Although an imperfect reflection, I desire the same kind of faith from my own kids whom I deeply love. I want them to worry less and trust with full confidence that I would never withhold anything needed or desired from them with any malicious intent to harm them.

Getting to call upon God as our Abba, Father, is one of the most fundamental – yet valuable – benefits of the Gospel. Our infinitely wise Heavenly Father is bidding us every day to trust, beyond our own limitations, what He knows that we do not and what He sees that we cannot. As the Father loved Jesus, so all those who love His Son are held by the same hand of our Father in heaven who guides us knowingly and cares abundantly for us.   

Written by Dr. Michael Whiting

Dr. Michael Whiting is the Director of Written Content in University Communications at Dallas Baptist University.