Daddy, My Daddy! image

Daddy, My Daddy!

If you spend enough Sundays in evangelical churches, sooner or later you’ll hear it said that the reason Paul didn’t translate ‘Abba’ from the Aramaic when writing Romans was because he wanted to capture the essence of the familiar, child-like, intimate name for father, for which there was no real equivalent in Greek.

The closest equivalent to ‘Abba’ in English, we are told, is ‘Daddy’, though since generations of translators have eschewed it in favour of the original, it’s presumably not really close enough to be considered equivalent. Nevertheless, many a preacher will draw the comparison in an attempt to encapsulate the sense of intimacy and acceptance we have with the Father; the image painted is usually something like that of Jenny Agutter’s Bobbie flying down a station platform crying ‘Daddy, my daddy!’ at the end of The Railway Children. If you can watch that sequence without a tear springing to your eye, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am – I’m welling up just writing the phrase!
The message is that God is not merely ‘Father’, that stiff, remote, Victorian patriarch to whom we are presented only when we’ve been suitably cleaned up, brushed down and smartly turned out. He’s ‘Daddy’, waiting with arms open wide, longing to be reunited with us after an absence.
It wasn’t until I visited Israel earlier this year, however, that I realised the full strength of the word and its many layers of meaning. I heard a child use it, not in the context of a gleeful reunion, but in the pleading whinge of request: ‘Ab-baaaaa?’
How many times did you hear that this summer? ‘Daaaaad, can I have an ice cream? Daaaad, will you play football with me? Daaaad…?’
Or how about the angry, foot-stomping scream? ‘Dad-dyyyy! I don’t want to go! It’s not fair!’
Then there is the cry in the midst of the nightmare, the beckoning summons to see an interesting seashell or watch a new trick, or the matter-of-fact seeking of advice or information.

With tiny variations of emphasis and tone, that one simple word – the first word most children learn – can convey a host of meanings, none of which is achievable with ‘father’.

Although biologically ‘father’ and ‘dad’ are the same person, linguistically ‘father’ is a name which often creates and bespeaks distance, while ‘dad’ speaks of a far closer relationship. You can be a father without ever seeing your child. These days you can be a father multiple times over and never know it. You can’t be a dad without knowing it.

It is important to hold these names of God – and the resultant attitudes they conjure up – in tension. Discussing it in my Life Group recently, we acknowledged that it is dangerously easy for ‘our kind of churches’ to err too much towards the (over?)familiar and neglect the awe and wonder which God is also due. That said, though, it has refreshed my prayer life greatly to recall that God is ‘Dad’; he’s not just progenitor and provider, but someone who’s interested in the cool seashell I just saw, proud of the new skill I’ve learned and always available to give the very best possible advice and guidance. He’s also willing and able to cope with my whines and whinges, delights in giving me good gifts, and rushes to comfort me when I cry out in the darkest nights. Knowing – feeling – that he is these things reminds and inspires me to pray to him in these different ways.

This won’t be true for everyone, of course. If your connotations of ‘daddy’ are of someone distant, capricious or abusive, employing that term in your prayer life may not be helpful; using the less emotionally-freighted term ‘Father’ may well be a more useful intellectual exercise as you come to understand and experience the true father-child relationship. I have found it a helpful image, though, and if it helps me move to a more mature, steady, constant relationship to my holy, awesome, heavenly Father, that can only be good. Better by far than the cycle of drift and re-discovery that I’ve often gone though in the past – as I’m sure Bobbie would agree.

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