One of my cousins is a Jehovah’s Witness. One time, my mom invited me to have coffee with the two of them.
I pitched a softball question at Cousin P, “By what name did Jesus teach us to call God?”
“Jehovah!” she blurted.
“Oh,” I said, “can you tell me where in the Gospels Jesus called God, ‘Jehovah,’ or instructed his disciples to do so?”
I continued, “In John 17, Jesus prayed that his disciples would be protected by the power of the name he’d been given to call God. What name do you suppose that was?”
“God’s name is ‘Jehovah,'” she insisted.
“Ah, but that’s not what Jesus called God,” I rebutted. “What did Jesus call God in John 17?”
“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:11 NIV emphasis mine NAW)
How can a name protect God’s people? Jehovah’s Witnesses and other heretical groups make a big deal out of pronouncing the right syllables in God’s direction in order to be heard by him. That’s just plain silly. God isn’t Rumpelstiltskin. He doesn’t have to do what we say when we decode his secret name. The name “Holy Father” protects Christ’s followers because, however it’s pronounced around the world, it reveals the nature of our relationship to God and to each other.
God’s eternal nature is “Father.” We don’t use human fatherhood as an analogy to better understand our relationship to God. Human fatherhood is an expression of God’s eternal fatherhood.¹ If we know God as Holy Father, we know him as he is. If we know him as he is, we have eternal life.² If God is my father and your father and Christ’s father, then we’re all bound together in an eternal family which we didn’t form nor have we the right to define. The name, “Holy Father,” protects us individually from being condemned with the world and protects our unity as God’s family.³
Of course, the concept of fatherhood has been abused throughout human history, and so God couldn’t just say, “Hey guys, I’m your dad.” God isn’t a run-of-the-mill father. He’s not a deadbeat dad or an abusive alcoholic. He’s not passive or overbearing. He’s not distant or chummy. He doesn’t push unsolicited advice or quietly shake his head in disgust at our failures. God isn’t just “father,” he’s “Holy Father.” That is, he’s a father far and away above every approximation of fatherhood.
Only Christ, the eternal Son, by living a human life in complete trust and obedience to God could rightly address the transcendent creator as his father. Christ’s resurrection affirmed his relationship with his father. When we believe that Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection were for our sake, then we’ve begun to trust in God as Holy Father. We can go to him for guidance and provision. We can expect his loving discipline. We’ll want to please him and we can be confident that we are his joy.
Like far too many people in our world, I grew up without a dad. Consequently, I’ve spent much of my life with a nagging sense that I need to prove myself. My worth was contingent on my performance. This deficit produced workaholism when I went into ministry. After a couple of years, I was exhausted and spiritually arid.
One afternoon, my thirst superseded my fatigue enough to compel me to the prayer room adjacent to our offices. I poured out my heart to a God I called, “Father,” but knew mostly as my boss. He showed me a vision of a dining room with a low ceiling. Natural light came in through an open western wall illuminating a heavy raw wood table and benches. A voice said, “Go ahead and have a seat; it’s almost time for dinner.”
Tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t God’s employee; I was his son. Work was going undone, but he didn’t chide me for my indolence. The dining room was empty because everyone else was still in the field. But I was tired, and it was my loving Father’s will that I rest. When dinner time came, I’d be fully welcome at his table whether I’d done my share or not. Holy Father protected me on that day from pride (AKA insecurity), despair, bitterness, isolation, and eventual moral failure, by the power of his name.
- Ephesians 3:14-15 variant Greek reading.
- John 17:3
- Ephesians 4:3-6