The Lord’s Prayer, commonly known as the “Our Father,” is known so well and said so often that we can forgot how extraordinary it is to call the Creator of the Universe “Father.”
Many world religions have been around for a long time. Most believe in one God. All teach the gist of the Ten Commandments.
But in a few respects, Christianity is absolutely unique. That the supreme Being is not just “King of the Universe” or “Master” but “Father,” that he desires a close, familiar relationship with us, this you don’t find anywhere outside the teaching of Jesus.
This shocking intimacy with the Galaxy Maker is made possible only by Christ’s death and resurrection. Through faith and baptism, our old self, cut off from God, dies with Christ on the cross. We begin a new life in Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Jesus shares everything with us, since we are now members of his body. He shares with us his own righteousness, so we are forgiven every one of our sins (Col 2:13-14). He even shares with us his Father. So when he teaches us to pray, we’re told to address God as he does, as “Abba”.
To call God “Father” does not mean to say, of course, that he is an old man with a white beard. Only the second person of the Blessed Trinity wedded himself to a male human nature in the womb of Mary. The Father and the Holy Spirit are pure Spirit and transcend male and female, masculine and feminine (CCC 239). This is no new insight brought to Christianity by the feminist movement. It has always been taught that the word “Father” applied to God, is used by way of analogy. Analogies tell us something very true despite being imperfect. Until recently, the father was recognized by Western society as origin, head and provider of the family. To call the first person of the Trinity “Father” means that he is the origin and transcendent authority of all and cares for the needs of all.
But we all instinctively know that a father who pays the bills and barks orders is not enough. We expect a dad to have an intimate, affectionate relationship with his children, to spend “quality time” with them. To call God “Father” means, then, that he is near to us, intimately concerned with us, fond of us, even crazy about us. He is not the distant, clockmaker God of Thomas Jefferson and the Deists. This aloof God of the philosophers created the world to run on its own so that he could withdraw and occupy himself with more interesting pursuits.
No, the God whom Jesus calls Father cares about us and knows us intimately. “Every hair on your head is numbered (Mat 10:30).” He loves us more than we love ourselves and knows us better than we know ourselves. He tells us to ask him for “our daily bread” which stands for all that we need to grow physically and spiritually. Luke’s version of the Lord ’s Prayer (Luke 11:2-4) leaves out “Thy will be done,” but it is implied in “thy kingdom come.” God’s kingdom means God having his way, not necessarily us getting our way. Sometimes God gives us exactly what we ask for because this corresponds with what is best for us and everybody (his will always involves this). But we know that sometimes our kids ask for things that may be appealing at first glance, but really are ultimately not God’s best. Abraham asked that Sodom be spared for the sake of the innocent. But God saw that it would be best to get Abraham’s righteous cousins out of Sodom and destroy the city to protect humanity from its predatory violence. So Abraham got what he really wanted, but not the way he wanted it (Genesis 18:20ff).
God wants us to pray relentlessly for our needs and the needs of others. He is always listening. But he listens beyond our words to hear the true desire of our hearts. And that is what He gives us. It may come wrapped in some unexpected packaging. And it may take some time. But it comes. After all, He’s our father.