“Abba! Father!”

I wrote the following several years ago and posted it as a “note” on Facebook.com Though I had nearly forgotten about writing this short reflection, the concept has remained precious to me for years. I republish it now in the hope that it will bless you in a similar way.


For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Romans 8:15-17

I recently learned that “abba” in Aramaic means something close to “papa” or “daddy.” This has got me thinking.

You call your dad “father” when you go off to war, when you come home blushing, when you’re being punished, and when you’re being adult. You call him father as you march away, avoid his eyes, or ask for his help, when things are serious and grown up.

We call God “Father” when we pray, repent, beg, doubt, and suffer, when we are being tested or tempted, and when we are alone. We call him Father in his holiness and enormity, and in our own guilt and helplessness. We call him father with our heads bowed.

But he also invites us to approach him as intimates, as his children, quietly confidant in his powerful good work. He lets Paul – a very mature, Roman, Jewish, man – call him abba, papa, daddy. I haven’t even called my own dad “daddy” since I was a little kid, and he is much less intimidating than God.

“His compassions never fail, they are new every morning.”

God delights with a simple joy in his own creation. Like a child admiring his own handiwork, he has named every star; he wants new songs and shouts of joy. As father he is strong and mighty; as daddy he is gentle and tender. As father he humbles us and breaks our proud hearts; as daddy he lifts us up high, then rejoices with us in our still small triumphs. God the Father is our fortress in the battle. God the Daddy welcomes us back once the battle is won.

That God runs to me even as I wallow in my own doubt and trepidation, slaughters a fatted calf at a feast in my honor, puts his ring on my finger, and makes me alive again.

But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:19-24

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