Today is All Souls’ Day, or the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed, the day on which we are encouraged to remember before God those women and men we have known personally, who, by their lives, their example, and their investment in us, trained us in the faith for holy living.
And on this All Souls’ Day, I have been thinking about how we speak to God.
When Jesus’ first disciples asked him to teach them to pray, he taught them to come before God as Father. I note how many Charismatic Christians will call God Father over and over in prayer. But when Jesus calls God Father, I think he has something particular in mind, and that is the role of the father, in his cultural context, as the one to whom you were apprenticed.
Jesus had been apprenticed to his father, Joseph, as a builder of homes. (Before you offer me any pious nonsense about Joseph not being Jesus’ father, please don’t; instead, reflect on any brilliant adoptive or stepfathers you might know. And then, repent.) After Joseph’s death (as well as that of his cousin John) Jesus experiences God calling him into something new and apprenticing him: I only do what I see the Father doing. Jesus even explicitly refers to this Father God as the builder...
Likewise, Jesus calls Simon and Andrew, James and John, who have been apprenticed by their fathers Jonah and Zebedee to be fishermen, to become ‘fishers of people.’
It is in this sense, I think, primarily, that God is both the father of Jesus and of those who follow him. Not only the one who gives life—in that sense, God is parent of all—but the one to whom we are apprenticed (and this also applies, to some degree, to all humanity).
As I think of all the images Jesus takes up to describe what God is like, I wonder why we so rarely think to pray to God the widow, to pester us out of our hard-hearted indifference to injustice; or to housewife God, to search out and find what we have lost, of our dignity, or discarded of our resources...
But I also wonder what it would look like if we saw God less as daddy to a helpless infant, and more as master builder, from whom we are called to learn?
Which brings me back to All Souls’ Day, and the hope that one day, after am I gone, future generations might remember me before God, with thanksgiving.
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