Pateriology: Study 3

1 11 2008

Pateriology: The Person and Work of the Father 

Introduction

A favourite story told by Jesus is found in Luke 15:

  11 Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13 A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living.

  14 When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16 He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17 But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18 I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’

  20 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe–the best one–and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

  25 “Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27 He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28 Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him.

  29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’

  31 Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

The story is hauntingly familiar. It resonates. This is the story humanity is made of, the world over – with mothers, daughters, fathers, sons, husbands, wives, grandparents and in-laws and cousins. It is brilliantly told by the master storyteller himself; it gets into our hearts, and minds. We think of dear ones, estranged or reconciled. It connects with prayers issuing from the depths of our hearts. Tears and sorrow are near to the surface, or anger and disappointment is concealed deeply below. Why so poignant, so stirring, so disturbing?

Kenneth Bailey says:

‘… the prodigal …planning to work as a servant …intends to save himself, [but]…on his return …is shattered by the offer of grace… the older son launches into a bitter tirade against the father. The parable closes with a final appeal for reconciliation. Both sons are seen as rebels needing a visible demonstration of love to win them from servanthood to sonship.’

We should note of this story:

1.     It echoes the human predicament – rebellion, loneliness, and folly.

2.     It echoes the gospel appeal from the Father through His son to the world: For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more surely, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life (Romans 5:10). And, ‘…we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin…we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain (2Corinthians 5:20–­­­­6:1).

3.     It echoes lavish grace, new possibilities, and stubborn wills.

This story is there in all of humanity. And it is there in humanity, primarily because it is there between Our Father in heaven and his children in rebellion. As someone said ‘we are rebels with weapons in our hands’.

What is it that wins rebels, like these 2, ‘from servanthood to sonship’?

Seemingly absent from the story, is the action of atonement that takes people, sin, guilt scheming and rebellion seriously; that takes the Father and the Son of God, and the eternal family seriously. However, the storyteller himself, Jesus, is all too well aware, amidst all the failure of the human race, of what it will take to effect true forgiveness and reconciliation, namely, a cross. Nothing less.

When the State becomes your father…

1.     I once spoke with a worker, who described some failures in the Youth detention centre system, saying, ‘Young Aboriginal men come to the centre, until they are 18 yrs old. Most continue their ways and proceed to State Prison. Sadly, we are not allowed into their home lives to work on helping whole families. “When the State becomes Your Father, your Home becomes the Prison”.

2.     I am a friend of a man who has been out to prove himself, all his life. He never met his father. He knew he was adopted, and was grateful for that… but does he have a deep longing in this…

O Lord, all my longing is known to you; my sighing is not hidden from you (Psalm 38:9)

3.     I know a man who grew up in orphanages. He never knew his parents. He believes Jesus promise below, and is very moved by Christian messages of the Father. How beautiful is Jesus promise:

 ‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you… On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you….those who love me will be loved by my Father…we will come to them and make our home with them’ (John 14:18-23 selected verses)

4.     My Dream: I shared that God is Father, with a tough bikie. I said he had an inbuilt resistance to this, but that if he really heard me, he would know this to be true.  I thought he would bash me… but he heard me, and believed me, and his anger was gone! He softened.

The Male-Female Duality

The Christian revelation is that God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The substitution of Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer as such, is not the Christian revelation. (Indeed, all work together in these 3 works)

‘Man’ (male-female) is made in the image and likeness of God. The word ‘Man’ is chosen here in preference to the word ‘Humanity’, because it is a single syllable and as such, conveys the sense of a single ‘block’ of human people. (God is One). The word – humanity – with the “–ity” ending, suggests a multiplicity (2 or more groups, not 1). It conveys the one-ness in creation prior to the entry of sin. It does not here, suggest ‘maleness’, but rather one-ness.

Given that Man (male-female) is the image of God then it follows, surely, that the male-female duality exists within God. There is certainly motherhood in God; this needs clarifying. Geoff Bingham says:

The male-female of God is called ‘Father’, given that God is often likened to a mother but is never as such called mother. Yet the word Father embraces both.

The Father is Love – Love is Flowing

Students of the Bible are often surprised to learn that nowhere in Scripture does it teach that ‘Jesus is Love’. Neither does Scripture speak of love as being the glue that holds the Trinity together. This would suggest a fourth action (or hypostasis), within the Triune God.

When John teaches that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8, 16), he means ‘the Father is love’; in and from this love creation and redemption flow!

Paul supports this conclusion, when he speaks of Jesus, as being ‘the beloved Son’ (Colossians 1:13), or the alternatively phrase is ‘The Son of his Love’. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the Father, and Spirit of the Son (Rom. 8:11; Matthew 10:20; 2Cor. 3:17; 1Peter 1:11).

Love flows from the fountainhead of love: the Fons Divinitatis.

(Psalm 36); this steadfast love flows out to the world to deal with sin, cleanse and reconcile, that the Father’s true family be formed.The Son is sent (incarnated), and the Spirit is spirated (breathed).  And we are incorporated into that flow of love (John 17:20-25).


Kenneth E. Bailey Poet and Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes (Eerdmans, 1976), p. 206

Geoffrey C. Bingham, I love the Father, (NCPI 1990), p. 20; See references Isaiah 66:13; Psalm 131:2; cf. Psalm 27:10

Geoffrey C. Bingham, Ah, Strong, Strong Love! (NCPI ,1993), p. 66

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