Genesis 9:22, 23; Matthew 9:36; Luke 15:31,32
Coming to terms with “Dad”
We have just heard the song “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens (Tea for the Tillerman, Coqueiro Verde Records). The two people take turns speaking or singing. The father wants the boy to relax, to take it easy, even though that may not come naturally at this time. The son just wants to get out, frustrated as he is about the father’s unwillingness to understand him:” From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen” and “All the times that I cried keeping all the things I knew inside, it’s hard, but it’s harder to ignore it.” In some ways it’s an easy transition from the father figure in the song to the father figure in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The young son wants to leave and experience the world, asks for hi inheritance and squanders it. The father welcomes him home with a feast, upsetting the faithful son in the process. We could imagine the father in the son doing the same, although he may not be quite so forgiving. Then there is the reference to a drunk, naked Noah who gets covered up by his sons in Genesis so his “nakedness” will not be seen. Noah of course is a towering figure in their lives.
Friends, we deal with different characters and situation in the two passages and the song. All three have to do with fathers and all three deal with children having to come to terms with their fathers. All children have to do that at one point or another: deal with “Dad.” We all at one point or another have our “Daddy” issues. For some of us it may the inability to connect with our father on an emotional level. There is a kind of distance perhaps. Others have to deal with the reality that they never had much of a father to begin with. Others may be very happy with and grateful for the father they have or had, but maybe they are still trying to please him, “make him proud,” so to say.
It has been almost forty years since I lost my father. That’s a lot longer than I knew him. I can’t say he left a lot of unresolved issues, just a lot of conversations we weren’t able to have. But even if the relationship is not that big of a problem, we still have to process it. For sons and daughters that will be a different experience. It is necessary for us to mature well. Also, it is necessary for us in how we deal with God. Now you know I have been trying to nudge you away from the ancient concept of God as “Father,” as God does not have a gender, but our culture still has a long way to go in the area. Calling God “parent” may help quite a bit, but we can still think of a parent as male especially if that parent is God. Calling God “mother” can resolve a lot of problems for us, but who’s to say we don’t have “mommy” issues?
John Cobb is a slight man in his eighties or even nineties. He grew up partially in Japan as the son of Methodist missionaries and he has written about Buddhism and Christianity. John Cobb is one of the most Christian men I have ever known. He was my professor of theology at Claremont. I almost knocked him over catching a football once and I could have done serious damage to him. He just smiled. In class I would nod off and he would just smile. He moved into communal living with students and young teachers because he believed in it, even though he was a Southern gentleman who was way too private for that. For many years he dealt with a wife with Alzheimer’s disease. He is one of the leading Christian voices in the climate change debate. Although he is a liberal theologian who is very supportive of feminism his last book was about “Abba,” not the Swedish pop group in loud clothes, but Abba, the word for “Dad” Jesus used to address God. To my surprise Cobb argues that we should keep thinking of God as father, because of the intimacy of thinking of God as “Daddy.” An interesting point, because if we cannot be intimate we God, how can our faith be satisfying or meaningful? And this especially a problem that men have. We have been taught not to be emotionally close to another man. In the promo of Cobb’s book, he writes:” The church has emphasized ideas about God that have marginalized Jesus’ understanding of his spiritual Father, his Abba. We commonly think of God as a demanding lawgiver and judge, an omnipotent ruler, or an ultimate philosophical principle. None of these works well today.” (Jesus’ Abba, The God who has not failed. Fortress Press, 2016).
Friends, where are you with Abba, dad, daddy, father, whatever that means to you? I recommend you figure that out, for when you hear “Heavenly Father,” what you think or feel most likely will have something to do with how you will receive those words. May Abba be with you and give you peace!