THE FATHER IN HEAVEN
Our Father in Heaven.
It might well be said that the word Father used of God is a compact summary of the Christian faith. The great value of this word Father is that it settles all the relationships of this life.
(i) It settles our relationship to the unseen world. Missionaries tell us that one of the greatest reliefs which Christianity brings to the heathen mind and heart is the certainty that there is only one God. It is the heathen belief that there are hordes of gods, that every stream and river, and tree and valley, and hill and wood, and every natural force has its own god. The heathen lives in a world crowded with gods. Still further, all these gods are jealous, and grudging, and hostile. They must all be placated, and a man can never be sure that he has not omitted the honour due to some of these gods. The consequence is that the heathen lives in terror of the gods; he is “haunted and not helped by his religion.”
The most significant Greek legend of the gods is the legend of Prometheus. Prometheus was a god. It was in the days before men possessed fire; and life without fire was a cheerless and a comfortless thing. In pity Prometheus took fire from heaven and gave it as a gift to men. Zeus, the king of the gods, was mightily angry that men should receive this gift. So he took Prometheus and he chained him to a rock in the middle of the Adriatic Sea, where he was tortured with the heat and the thirst of the day, and the cold of the night. Even more, Zeus prepared a vulture to tear out Prometheus’ liver, which always grew again, only to be torn out again.
That is what happened to the god who tried to help men. The whole conception is that the gods are jealous, and vengeful, and grudging; and the last thing the gods wish to do is to help men. That is the heathen idea of the attitude of the unseen world to men. The heathen is haunted by the fear of a horde of jealous and grudging gods. So, then, when we discover that the God to whom we pray has the name and the heart of a father it makes literally all the difference in the world. We need no longer shiver before a horde of jealous gods; we can rest in a father’s love.
(ii) It settles our relationship to the seen world, to this world of space and time in which we live. It is easy to think of this world as a hostile world. There are the chances and the changes of life; there are the iron laws of the universe which we break at our peril; there is suffering and death; but if we can be sure that behind this world there is, not a capricious, jealous, mocking god, but a God whose name is Father, then although much may still remain dark, all is now bearable because behind all is love. It will always help us if we regard this world as organized not for our comfort but for our training.
Take, for instance, pain. Pain might seem a bad thing, but pain has its place in the order of God. It sometimes happens that a person is so abnormally constituted that he is incapable of feeling pain. Such a person is a danger to himself and a problem to everyone else. If there were no such thing as pain, we would never know that we were ill, and often we would die before steps could be taken to deal with any disease or illness. That is not to say that pain cannot become a bad thing, but it is to say that times without number pain is God’s red light to tell us that there is danger ahead.
Lessing used to say that if he had one question to ask the Sphinx, it would be: “Is this a friendly universe?” If we can be certain that the name of the God who created this world is Father, then we can also be certain that fundamentally this is a friendly universe. To call God Father is to settle our relationship to the world in which we live.
THE FATHER IN HEAVEN
Matt. 6:9 (continued)
(iii) If we believe that God is Father, it settles our relationship to our fellow-men. If God is Father, he is Father of all men. The Lord’s Prayer does not teach us to pray My Father; it teaches us to pray Our Father. It is very significant that in the Lord’s Prayer the words I, me, and mine never occur; it is true to say that Jesus came to take these words out of life and to put in their place we, us, and ours. God is not any man’s exclusive possession. The very phrase Our Father involves the elimination of self. The fatherhood of God is the only possible basis of the brotherhood of man.
(iv) If we believe that God is Father, it settles our relationship to ourselves. There are times when every man despises and hates himself. He knows himself to be lower than the lowest thing that crawls upon the earth. The heart knows its own bitterness, and no one knows a man’s unworthiness better than that man himself.
Mark Rutherford wished to add a new beatitude: “Blessed are those who heal us of our self-despisings.” Blessed are those who give us back our self-respect. That is precisely what God does. In these grim, bleak, terrible moments we can still remind ourselves that, even if we matter to no one else, we matter to God; that in the infinite mercy of God we are of royal lineage, children of the King of kings.
(v) If we believe that God is Father, it settles our relationship to God. It is not that it removes the might, majesty and power of God. It is not that it makes God any the less God; but it makes that might, and majesty, and power, approachable for us.
There is an old Roman story which tells how a Roman Emperor was enjoying a triumph. He had the privilege, which Rome gave to her great victors, of marching his troops through the streets of Rome, with all his captured trophies and his prisoners in his train. So the Emperor was on the march with his troops. The streets were lined with cheering people. The tall legionaries lined the streets’ edges to keep the people in their places. At one point on the triumphal route there was a little platform where the Empress and her family were sitting to watch the Emperor go by in all the pride of his triumph. On the platform with his mother there was the Emperor’s youngest son, a little boy. As the Emperor came near the little boy jumped off the platform, burrowed through the crowd, tried to dodge between the legs of a legionary, and to run out on to the road to meet his father’s chariot. The legionary stooped down and stopped him. He swung him up in his arms: “You can’t do that, boy,” he said. “Don’t you know who that is in the chariot? That’s the Emperor. You can’t run out to his chariot.” And the little lad laughed down. “He may be your Emperor,” he said, “but he’s my father.” That is exactly the way the Christian feels towards God. The might, and the majesty, and the power are the might, and the majesty, and the power of one whom Jesus taught us to call Our Father.
THE FATHER IN HEAVEN
Matt. 6:9 (continued)
So far we have been thinking of the first two words of this address to God–Our Father, but God is not only Our Father, He is Our Father who is in heaven. The last words are of primary importance. They conserve two great truths.
(i) They remind us of the holiness of God. It is very easy to cheapen and to sentimentalize the whole idea of the fatherhood of God, and to make it an excuse for an easy-going, comfortable religion. “He’s a good fellow and all will be well.” As Heine said of God: “God will forgive. It is his trade.” If we were to say Our Father, and stop there, there might be some excuse for that; but it is Our Father in heaven to whom we pray. The love is there, but the holiness is there, too.
It is extraordinary how seldom Jesus used the word Father in regard to God. Mark’s gospel is the earliest gospel, and is therefore the nearest thing we will ever have to an actual report of all that Jesus said and did; and in Mark’s gospel Jesus calls God Father only six times, and never outside the circle of the disciples. To Jesus the word Father was so sacred that he could hardly bear to use it; and he could never use it except amongst those who had grasped something of what it meant.
We must never use the word Father in regard to God cheaply, easily, and sentimentally. God is not an easy-going parent who tolerantly shuts his eyes to ali sins and faults and mistakes. This God, whom we can call Father, is the God whom we must still approach with reverence and adoration, and awe and wonder. God is our Father in heaven, and in God there is love and holiness combined.
(ii) They remind us of the power of God. In human love there is so often the tragedy of frustration. We may love a person and yet be unable to help him achieve something, or to stop him doing something. Human love can be intense–and quite helpless. Any parent with an erring child, or any lover with a wandering loved one knows that. But when we say, `Our Father in heaven,’ we place two things side by side. We place side by side the love of God and the power of God. We tell ourselves that the power of God is always motivated by the love of God, and can never be exercised for anything but our good; we tell ourselves that the love of God is backed by the power of God, and that therefore its purposes can never be ultimately frustrated or defeated. It is love of which we think, but it is the love of God. When we pray Our Father in heaven we must ever remember the holiness of God, and we must ever remember the power which moves in love, and the love which has behind it the undefeatable power of God.
THE HALLOWING OF THE NAME
Matt. 6:9 (continued)
Let your name be held holy.
“Hallowed be Thy name”–it is probably true that of all the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer this is the one whose meaning we would find it most difficult to express. First, then, let us concentrate on the actual meaning of the words.
The word which is translated hallowed is a part of the Greek verb hagiazesthai (GSN0037). The Greek verb hagiazesthai is connected with the adjective hagios (GSN0040), and means to treat a person or a thing as hagios. Hagios is the word which is usually translated holy; but the basic meaning of hagios is different or separate. A thing which is hagios (GSN0040) is different from other things. A person who is hagios is separate from other people. So a temple is hagion (GSN0039) because it is different from other buildings. An altar is hagios (GSN0040) because it exists for a purpose different from the purpose of ordinary things. God’s day is hagios (GSN0040) because it is different from other days. A priest is hagios (GSN0040) because he is separate from other men. So, then, this petition means, “Let God’s name be treated differently from all other names; let God’s name be given a position which is absolutely unique.”
But there is something to add to this. In Hebrew the name does not mean simply the name by which a person is called– John or James, or whatever the name may be. In Hebrew the name means the nature, the character, the personality of the person in so far as it is known or revealed to us. That becomes clear when we see how the Bible writers use the expression.
The Psalmist says, “Those who know thy name put their trust in thee” (Ps.9:10). Quite clearly that does not mean that those who know that God is called Jehovah will trust in him. It means that those who know what God is like, those who know the nature and the character of God will put their trust in him. The Psalmist says, “Some boast of chariots and some of horses, but we boast of the name of the Lord our God” (Ps.20:7). Quite clearly that does not mean that in a time of difficulty the Psalmist will remember that God is called Jehovah. It means that at such a time some will put their trust in human and material aids and defences, but the Psalmist will remember the nature and the character of God; he will remember what God is like, and that memory will give him confidence.
So, then, let us take these two things and put them together. Hagiazesthai (GSN0037), which is translated to hallow, means to regard as different, to give a unique and special place to. The name is the nature, the character, the personality of the person in so far as it is known and revealed to us. Therefore, when we pray “Hallowed be Thy name,” it means, “Enable us to give to thee the unique place which thy nature and character deserve and demand.”
THE PRAYER FOR REVERENCE
Matt. 6:9 (continued)
Is there, then, one word in English for giving to God the unique place which his nature and character demand? There is such a word, and the word is reverence. This petition is a prayer that we should be enabled to reverence God as God deserves to be reverenced. In all true reverence of God there are four essentials.
(i) In order to reverence God we must believe that God exists. We cannot reverence someone who does not exist; we must begin by being sure of the existence of God.
To the modern mind it is strange that the Bible nowhere attempts to prove the existence of God. For the Bible God is an axiom. An axiom is a self-evident fact which is not itself proved, but which is the basis of all other proofs. For instance, `A straight line is the shortest distance between two points,’ and, `Parallel lines, however far produced, will never meet,’ are axioms.
The Bible writers would have said that it was superfluous to prove the existence of God, because they experienced the presence of God every moment of their lives. They would have said that a man no more needed to prove that God exists than he needs to prove that his wife exists. He meets his wife every day, and he meets God every day.
But suppose we did need to try to prove that God exists, using our own minds to do so, how would we begin? We might begin from the world in which we live. Paley’s old argument is not yet completely outdated. Suppose there is a man walking along the road. He strikes his foot against a watch lying in the dust. He has never in his life seen a watch before; he does not know what it is. He picks it up; he sees that it consists of a metal case, and inside the case a complicated arrangement of wheels, levers, springs and jewels. He sees that the whole thing is moving and working in the most orderly way. He sees further that the hands are moving round the dial in an obviously predetermined routine. What then does he say? Does he say: “All these metals and jewels came together from the ends of the earth by chance, by chance made themselves into wheels and levers and springs, by chance assembled themselves into this mechanism, by chance wound themselves up and set themselves going, by chance acquired their obvious orderly working”? No. He says, “I have found a watch; somewhere there must be a watch-maker.”
Order presupposes mind. We look at the world; we see a vast machine which is working in order. Suns rise and set in an unvarying succession. Tides ebb and flow to a timetable. Seasons follow each other in an order. We look at the world, and we are bound to say, “Somewhere there must be a world-maker.” The fact of the world drives us to God. As Sir James Jeans has said, “No astronomer can be an atheist.” The order of the world demands the mind of God behind it.
We might begin from ourselves. The one thing man has never created is life. Man can alter and rearrange and change things, but he cannot create a living thing. Where then did we get our life? From our parents. Yes, but where did they get theirs? From their parents. But where did all this begin? At some time life must have come into the world; and it must have come from outside the world for man cannot create life; and once again we are driven back to God.
When we look in upon ourselves and out upon the world we are driven to God. As Kant said long ago, “the moral law within us, and the starry heavens above us,” drive us to God.
(ii) Before we can reverence God, we must not only believe that God is, we must also know the kind of God he is. No one could reverence the Greek gods with their loves and wars, their hates and their adulteries, their trickeries and their knaveries. No one can reverence capricious, immoral, impure gods. But in God as we know him there are three great qualities. There is holiness; there is justice; and there is love. We must reverence God, not only because he exists, but because he is the God whom we know him to be.
(iii) But a man might believe that God is; he might be intellectually convinced that God is holy, just and loving; and still he might not have reverence. For reverence there is necessary a constant awareness of God To reverence God means to live in a God-filled world, to live a life in which we never forget God. This awareness is not confined to the Church or to so-called holy places; it must be an awareness which exists everywhere and at all times.
Wordsworth spoke of it in Lines composed near Tintern Abbey:
“And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joy Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused, Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns, And the round ocean, and the living air, And the blue sky, and in the mind of man: A motion and a spirit, that impels All thinking things, all objects of all thought, And rolls through all things.”
One of the finest of modern devotional poets is Henry Ernest Hardy who wrote under the name of Father Andrew. In The Mystic Beauty he writes:
“O London town has many moods, And mingled ‘mongst its many broods A leavening of saints,
And ever up and down its streets, If one has eyes to see one meets Stuff that an artist paints.
I’ve seen a back street bathed in blue, Such as the soul of Whistler knew: A smudge of amber light,
Where some fried fish-shop plied its trade, A perfect note of colour made– Oh, it was exquisite!
I once came through St. James’ Park Betwixt the sunset and the dark, And oh the mystery
Of grey and green and violet! I would I never might forget That evening harmony.
I hold it true that God is there If beauty breaks through anywhere; And his most blessed feet,
Who once life’s roughest roadway trod., Who came as man to show us God, Still pass along the street.”
God in the back street, God in St. James’ Park, God in the fried fish-shop–that is reverence. The trouble with most people is that their awareness of God is spasmodic, acute at certain times and places, totally absent at others. Reverence means the constant awareness of God.
(iv) There remains one further ingredient in reverence. We must believe that God exists; we must know what kind of a God he is; we must be constantly aware of God. But a man might have all these things and still not have reverence. To all these things must be added obedience and submission to God. Reverence is knowledge plus submission. In his catechism Luther asks, “How is God’s name hallowed amongst us?” and his answer is, “When both our life and doctrine are truly Christian,” that is to say, when our intellectual convictions, and our practical actions, are in full submission to the will of God.
To know that God is, to know what kind of a God he is, to be constantly aware of God, and to be constantly obedient to him–that is reverence and that is what we pray for when we pray: “Hallowed be thy name.” Let God be given the reverence which his nature and character deserve.
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