Jean’s Gospel: Our Father Who Art in Heaven Part 2
Last week I introduced the invocation to the Lord’s Prayer – Our Father who art in heaven – by suggesting that Jesus linked together three aspects or angles by which to view and understand our relationship with God: (1) He is Father; (2) He is in Heaven; and (3) He is Ours.
In Part 1, we explored the meaning of the name Father. To briefly summarize: The name Father signifies that we have been adopted into a family relationship with the Triune God by grace through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The name Father also describes God’s loving disposition towards us as His children, who have been redeemed by the precious blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us.
In this Part 2, we will link the words “who art in heaven” to the name Father.
“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” (Ps 124:8)
By linking the words – who art in heaven – to the name Father, Jesus prompts us to consider that we are calling on the only true God “who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them” (Acts 4:24). As Lord over all, our Father has both the wisdom and power to fulfill His promises and grant our petitions.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” (Deut 6:4)
As the creator and sustainer of our very existence, God commands his children to have no other gods (Ex 20:3; Deut 5:7). Jesus made the same point: “call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Matt 23:9) We more fully understand our relationship with God when we honor His commandment by respecting Him alone as worthy of worship and by acknowledging and thanking Him for all our spiritual and bodily blessings, even the smallest mundane blessings which can easily be taken for granted.
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” (Isa 49:15)
In the words – who art in heaven – we are encouraged to give God our complete trust and confidence, because He alone is completely faithful and trustworthy. All human relationships are disordered by sin. But in our relationship with the one true God, He does not lie or ever fail us. “[I]f we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” (2 Tim 2:13)
“The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.” (Ps 103:19)
When we think about our Father being in heaven, we need to be very careful about our conception of heaven. It would be a serious mistake to think of heaven as located somewhere in a local sense, especially if we imagine God as spatially distant from us. Who could pray confidently to a god who is distant and removed from our human affairs?
When the Scriptures speak of God being in heaven, they typically are referring to an exalted place (i.e., His throne) from where God, by divine providence, rules over, cares for and sustains His creation. From heaven, by his infinite wisdom, God knows, sees and hears all things. Jesus, as our High Priest, “is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” (Heb 8:1) We are encouraged to place our trust in our Father’s care, who knows all, sees all and works all things together for our good.
“And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col 1:17)
In terms of heaven’s location, most of what we know about heaven comes from what we know of God who is in heaven. The Scriptures teach us that God is near to each one of us: “Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’” (Acts 17:27). God is also everywhere at once:
“Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.” (Ps 139:7-10)
But heaven is also distinct and hidden from creation: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Is 55:8-9)
Therefore, when we pray to our Father in heaven, first, we should understand heaven as overlapping creation, but invisible to our physical senses. Speaking of Christ, Paul wrote: “He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things” (Eph 4:10) Second, we should take comfort that God is with us everywhere. He hears our prayers and knows our thoughts and needs. According to His divine providence, God rules over creation for the benefit of His Church.
“And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile” (1 Pet 1:17)
When our thoughts turn to our Father in heaven, we should remember that the Church on earth is a community in exile, on a pilgrimage from God. Shortly before His arrest, Jesus prayed for his disciples:
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one.” (John 17:14-15)
God’s children live as citizens of heaven, but in a world that does not acknowledge (and is often hostile to) His Lordship. Even our own flesh rebels against God. Were it not for His grace and mercy, none of us could persevere in the faith. Therefore, when we pray to our Father who art in heaven, we should reflect on our lives here in exile. Such reflection can guide our petitions to ask for the things which will preserve us in Christ and bring us home to the heavenly country which He has prepared for us.
“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps 136:26) Amen.
Next week in Part 3, we will explore the word “Our” in the invocation.
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