DECEMBER 28, 2020 | SCOTT SWAIN ; THE GOSPEL COALITION
Our Lord Jesus taught us to sanctify the Father’s name in prayer: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matt. 6:9). Accordingly, the goal of Christian theology is to gain greater fluency in biblical discourse so that we might more faithfully hallow the Father’s name in prayer, proclamation, and praise. Learning to hallow the Father’s name requires us to reflect on the similarities and dissimilarities between God’s fatherhood and all other forms of fatherhood.
The fatherhood of God is primary, unique, and transcendent and this, in turn, determines how we should think about what it means to hallow the Father’s name in human language.
1. The fatherhood of God is primary.
The fatherhood of God is the first form of fatherhood, preexisting all other creaturely forms of fatherhood. Before the existence of creation, and thus before the existence of creaturely fathers and creaturely sons, the Father and his only begotten Son dwelled in eternal, mutual delight in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (John 1:1; 17:24–26). Moreover, just as God’s fatherhood is primary in the order of being, so also is it primary in the order of meaning. Every creaturely fatherhood in heaven and on earth is patterned after his divine fatherhood, not vice versa. He is “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14–15). All creaturely fatherhood is an image and likeness of his divine fatherhood (Gen. 5:1–3).
2. Therefore, the fatherhood of God is unique.
The fatherhood of God isn’t modeled after the fatherhood of creatures. Nor does the fatherhood of God belong to a larger class of fatherhood of which his fatherhood and creaturely fatherhood are members. God’s fatherhood is holy, set apart, and singular. It is the fatherhood of the one God. Its meaning, therefore, isn’t defined by the measure of creaturely forms of fatherhood or by some generic sense of fatherhood that might apply to both God and creatures. The meaning of God’s fatherhood is determined by God’s fatherhood alone. He is who he is (Ex. 3:14). His fatherhood is one (1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 4:6).
3. Therefore, the fatherhood of God is transcendent.
Because the fatherhood of God is primary, first in the order of being and first in the order of meaning, and because the fatherhood of God is unique, determined by God’s fatherhood alone and not by any external standard of fatherhood, the fatherhood of God transcends all creaturely limitations. Unlike the fatherhood of creatures, the fatherhood of God is not dependent, not composite, not changing, not limited, and not temporal. It is self-existent, simple, immutable, infinite, and eternal. God’s radiant fatherhood is “above” all other forms of fatherhood; he is “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17).
Our Language and Our God
The preceding discussion helps us appreciate why there’s a family resemblance between God’s fatherhood and creaturely forms of fatherhood—in other words, because the latter are patterned after the former. It also helps us appreciate why there can be no one-to-one comparison between God’s fatherhood and creaturely forms of fatherhood—since God’s fatherhood is unique and transcendent.
The preceding discussion also helps us appreciate something regarding the language we use in speaking of God’s fatherhood. When God the Father reveals himself through the Son and by the Spirit in Holy Scripture, he stoops down and takes our language on his lips. He doesn’t speak to us in the language of angels but in the language of human beings, “as a man” (Deut. 1:31; 8:5). Moreover, in doing so the Father invites us to speak his holy name using language native to the children of men. And so we cry “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:6), taking on our lips terms originally written in Aramaic and Greek.
The Father loves his children and therefore condescends to speak to them in their language, and he invites them to speak to him in their own language as well. That said, we shouldn’t take his gracious condescension to speak to us in our language as evidence that his fatherhood is an instance of creaturely fatherhood. But neither should we consider this child’s play—as if God were uttering empty syllables without transcendent significance.
Analogical Talk Is Hallowed Talk
When the Bible speaks of God the Father using ordinary human language and when we, following the Bible’s lead, call on God the Father in the ordinary human language of prayer, proclamation, and praise, we speak in an “analogical” manner. We don’t speak in a “univocal”manner—predicating the same things of God’s fatherhood that we predicate of creaturely forms of fatherhood—since God’s fatherhood is unique and transcendent. Nor do we speak in an “equivocal” manner—predicating absolutely different things of God’s fatherhood than we predicate of creaturely forms of fatherhood—since creaturely forms of fatherhood were made to resemble, in some distant way, God’s unique and transcendent fatherhood. Rather, we speak “analogically,” acknowledging both similarity and dissimilarity between God’s fatherhood and all creaturely forms of fatherhood.
In speaking analogically of God the Father, we acknowledge that God is truly Father—in relation to his only begotten Son and in relation to us as our Maker and Redeemer. We also acknowledge that he’s Father in a primary, unique, and transcendentsense, in a manner that finally exceeds all comprehension (Ps. 145:3) and all speech (Neh. 9:5).