At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore (Ps. 16: 11)
After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen (Matt. 6:9-13).
One of the first things to get straight in learning how to pray is the lesson of learning who you are praying to. Jesus is teaching His disciples to pray, and whenever you send a message of any kind—be it a letter, or email, or text—you need to put an address on it. Who are you talking to? Who should pay attention? Who is being addressed? If we don’t think about this carefully, we might find ourselves in a frightful muddle—beginning our prayer, for example, with “Dear Jesus,” and concluding it with “in Your Son’s name, amen.”
Now what Jesus instructed His disciples to do here—address God as our Father—was a radical innovation. There are a handful of places in the Old Testament where the fatherhood of God is referred to, but the total amounts to about fifteen instances (e.g. Deut. 32:6; Ps. 68:5). And in none of these instances is God directly addressed as “Father.” In the ancient Near East, where male deities and their consorts were common, it is perhaps not surprising that there was an avoidance of this kind of expression, which could have been taken as part of a pagan and sexualized fertility religion.
This is in sharp contrast to the New Testament. Jesus here instructs His disciples to make a point of praying this way. When you pray, make sure you say, “Our Father.” It was the Lord’s favorite expression for God—He uses it around 65 times in the synoptic gospels, and over 100 times in the gospel of John alone. The rest of the New Testament follows this example—in the Pauline letters, God is referred to as Father over 40 times.
At the same time, because God is the source of all that exists, because God is the Creator, it would seem that the Fatherhood of God would be a natural metaphor to draw. If there were no sin, this would be true, and so when liberal theology emphasized the Fatherhood of God and Brotherhood of Man (FOGBOM), they could only do so by minimizing the reality of sin. God is a universal Father, but sin necessarily interferes with our understanding of this, which is why liberals began by emphasizing the Fatherhood of God and ended by not understanding the difference between a father and a mother.
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named” (Eph. 3:14–15).
The phrase rendered here as the whole family comes from pas and patria—all the fathered. Every kind of lineage derives its name from the Father of the Lord Jesus. God objectively is the Father of all. But because we rebelled against Him in the Garden, disobeying His prohibition of the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, we were estranged from our Father. This meant that we either pursued a carnal sort of fatherhood, as in the fertility religions, or we withdrew, not daring to use the term Father.
By His sacrifice on the cross, Christ changed all that. The issue of sin has been addressed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and this is why we are summoned to approach God as our Father in Heaven. This is only possible because Christ dealt with all of our sins and also with the sins of others. If we believe we cannot come to a Father because of our own sins, Christ teaches us otherwise. If we believe that our experience with an abusive earthly father means that we could never address God as a Father, Christ teaches us otherwise.
So then, Christian prayer is addressed to the Father, in the name of the Son, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the destination, the Son is the road, and the Spirit is the car (Eph. 2:18).