Trinitarian Musings 1: Our Loving Father
Again and again, the Scriptures equate the terms ‘God’ and ‘Father’: in the Exodus, the Lord calls Israel ‘my firstborn son’ (Exodus 4:22; see also Isaiah 1:2; Jeremiah 31:9; Hosea 11:1); he carries his people ‘as a father carries his son’ (Deuteronomy 1:31), disciplines them ‘as a man disciplines his son’ (Deuteronomy 8:5); he calls to them, saying:
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him (Psalm 103:13)
How gladly would I treat you like sons and give you a desirable land, the most beautiful inheritance of any nation. I thought you would call me ‘Father’ and not turn away from following me. (Jeremiah 3:19; see also Jeremiah 3:4; Deuteronomy 32:6; Malachi 1:6)
Isaiah thus prays ‘you are our Father… you, O LORD, are our Father’ (Isaiah 63:16; see also Isaiah 64:8); and a popular Old Testament name was ‘Abijah’ (‘The LORD is my father’). Then Jesus repeatedly refers to God as ‘the Father’ and directs prayer to ‘Our Father’; he tells his disciples he will return ‘to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (John 20:17); Paul and Peter refer to ‘the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Romans 15:6; 1 Peter 1:3); Paul writes of ‘one God, the Father’ (1 Corinthians 8:6), of ‘God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Corinthians 1:3); Hebrews counsels ‘God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?’ (Hebrews 12:7 ).
Since God is, before all things, a Father, and not primarily Creator or Ruler, all his ways are beautifully fatherly. It is not that this God ‘does’ being Father as a day-job, only to kick back in the evenings as plain old ‘God’. It is not that he has a nice blob of fatherly icing on top. He is Father. All the way down. Thus all that he does he does as Father. That is who he is. He creates as a Father and he rules as a Father; and that means the way he rules over creation is most unlike the way any other God would rule over creation. The French Reformer, John Calvin, appreciating this deeply, once wrote:
we ought in the very order of things [in creation] diligently to contemplate God’s fatherly love… [for as] a foreseeing and diligent father of the family he shows his wonderful goodness toward us… To conclude once for all, whenever we call God the Creator of heaven and earth, let us at the same time bear in mind that… we are indeed his children, whom he has received into his faithful protection to nourish and educate… So, invited by the great sweetness of his beneficence and goodness, let us study to love and serve him with all our heart.1
It was a profound observation, for it is only when we see that God rules his creation as a kind and loving Father that we will be moved to delight in his providence. We might acknowledge that the rule of some heavenly policeman was just, but we could never take delight in his regime as we can delight in the tender care of a father.
1 Calvin, Institutes, 1.14.2, 22