Wednesday, December 19, 2007

And His Name Shall Be Called ... Everlasting Father (Advent Reflections Part 3)

I have been organizing my Advent reflections around Isaiah 9:6b. We have already said a little bit about what it means for Christ to bear the name "Wonderful Counselor" and "Mighty God." Let's turn our attention to the third title: "Everlasting Father."

I must admit that I have a hard time with this title. It's not that the Fatherhood language doesn't connect with me; it does. It's rather that "Father" does not work well as a title for Jesus. Although he may evince Fatherly qualities, the New Testament never refers to Jesus as Father. Rather, Jesus distinctly and consistently calls God Father, and his apostolic witnesses followed suit. When ones adds that the traditional trinitarian doctrine says the Son has everything the Father has except that the Son is not the Father, so that the only thing that distinguishes the persons is their constitutive relations, it seems all the more problematic to use "Father" as a name for Jesus. Because of this potential confusion, it may be good to avoid a 1-to-1 application of this messianic title.

Such avoidance does not mean, however, that we should avoid all talk fulfillment. For in Christ we have God as our Father. It is Christ who teaches us to prayer to God as Father. It is Christ who reconciles us to the Father. It is Christ who is not ashamed to call us brothers, so that in him we might have God as our Father. In Christ the Fatherhood of God is forever made manifest and secure.

Note that such a move is, formally speaking, not too far removed of the original meaning of Isaiah 9:6. This passage speaks both of a coming human king and God as king. There are some debates in OT scholarship over whether and how such oracles might be used in the celebration of God's kingship. But whatever the state of this debate, the basic contours of the royal theology of Israel are clear: the Davidic King is the Son of God and as such is the representative of God to the people. God's fatherly care of the people is made manifest and secure in the the King's leadership of the people. So as the Son of God, the King functions as Father for the people. It is in this sense that we speak of the coming messiah as the Everlasting Father. This royal office is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in whom the Fatherhood of God is forever made manifest and secure.

In Christ the Fatherhood of God is forever made manifest and secure. It is this foreverness, expressed in the adjective "Everlasting," which must require the remainder of our attention. What does "Everlasting" add to the equation? Is not the Fatherhood of God good enough news? Actually, the Everlastingness of God's Fatherhood is what makes him unique. We do not merely think of a good father and extrapolate that notion to God in the nth degree. For God's Fatherhood is unique-in-kind. What makes God's Fatherhood so special? God is an Everlasting Father. The eternity of God conditions the paternity in such a way that he is a father like no other father.

What does it mean to say that in Christ we have God as our Everlasting Father?

On the one hand, in Christ God has always been our Father. Even before the coming of Christ, God was the Father of Israel. Even before calling Israel out of Egypt, God was the Father of all creatures. Even before creating all things, God was from all eternity the Father of the Son who would become incarnate in time for us. In Christ God has always been our Father. Therefore, he's not new at this. God does not have to learn how to be a father by trial and error. He knows what he is doing in his fatherly care for us. So we can be confident that, even when it seems like God is failing us, God knows what he's doing.

On the other hand, in Christ God will always be our Father. Even after Christ died, God vindicated his Sonship by raising him from the dead. Even after Christ ascended, God adopted us as children by the Spirit of the Son. Even after our biological and spiritual parents are gone, God remains our Father. Even after we are gone, God remains our Father. Even after the heavens and earth pass away, God will be for all eternity the Father of Jesus Christ, the firstborn from the dead among many siblings who too will be raised. In Christ, God will always be our Father. Therefore, we never grow out of his fatherhood. God's relationship to us is not conditioned by the anxieties that plague all human relationships. We never have to take over, for he is our Father forever. So we can be calm that, even when all other care fades, God's fatherly care remains.

In Christ we have God as our Everlasting Father. He has always been our Father and will always be our Father. So in him and him alone we can be confident and calm.
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2 comments:

Keith Drury said...

You have a knack of explaining theology that engenders praise. I could say nothing after reading this article but AMEN!

vanilla said...

Any problem I've had with the "Everlasting Father" title has been eradicated by your analysis and explanation. Christ is my Elder Brother, but in Him the Fatherhood of God is secured to me. Well done!