Discovering the paternal heart of God
Abba. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus refers to his Father by this name in the Garden of Gethsemane. In Jesus’s native language of Aramaic, Abba is the intimate, familiar term of address of a child for his father. An approximate English equivalent would be “Papa” or even “Daddy.”
For a long time, the idea of speaking to God in this manner struck me as exceedingly strange, almost flippant. The omnipotent Creator God, Lord of the universe as “Daddy”? I’m sure Jesus's first-century Jewish audience found it equally bizarre, even shocking. They knew from the Book of Exodus that God revealed his name to Moses as Yahweh, “I am who I am.” (Exodus 3:14) Other common ways to address God in the Hebrew Scriptures are Elohim, “God” and Adonai, “Lord.”
When pondering the glory and majesty of God, it’s easy to wonder along with the Psalmist, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4) But our God is not the emotionally distant, indifferent God of deism; a philosophy that posits a Prime Mover that set creation in motion but then has nothing else to do with it. The God of the Bible is intensely interested in his creation, indeed, in each and every human being, “for God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). This verse has become such a common sight on Church signs, on posters at concerts and sporting events, on bumper stickers, and even tattoos, that we’ve become almost deaf to its cosmic, earth-shattering significance — God loves us so utterly and completely that he became one of us. As St. John famously writes in the prologue to his gospel, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Jesus is our Emmanuel, our “God with us.” (cf. Matthew 1:23)
Jesus came to be with us in order to reveal the heart of the Father to us. At his last supper with his intimate friends, the night before he was to give his entire self for the salvation of the human race, Jesus states unequivocally, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:10) Jesus is the ultimate self-revelation of God to humanity. From the heart of Christ, we learn that the heart of the Father is compassionate, self-giving, total love. In our relationship with God, we must have a simple, childlike confidence in God’s unending love for us, trust in his fatherly affection, gentleness, and compassion.
St. Paul understood this principle as well as anyone: “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba! Father!’” (Galatians 4:6) We rightly honor our earthly fathers and father figures, even though they, as fellow flawed humans, can stumble; sometimes badly. Yet our Heavenly Father will never abandon us, he will never let us down. He cares for us, and we must take courage and approach him in confidence, trusting in his merciful love.