Our Father in Heaven
Every night, as I am putting Calvin to bed, we pray together. I should actually say, I pray for him. I pray for the Lord to bless him as he sleeps and wake him in the morning. I pick certain people in his life and ask the Lord to bless those people; thanking him for their influence in Calvin's life. Then, at the end, I pray the Lord's Prayer with Calvin. He can't say it, but I want him to hear it regularly and then pray it when he is able.
The opening line to that prayer has been a point for me to ponder frequently. We say "Our Father in Heaven." This one phrase strikes me every time. We call God Father. We have a relationship with him that is close; he is "Our Father." He is not far off and distant, but "near to all who call on him" (Ps 145:18). The modern conceptions of God often place him far off or inaccessible, but what this simple prayer tells us is that he is nearby. He is "our Father."
I come home from my studies everyday and Calvin knows that he can call on me and I will come. I do not stand off aloof when he is in need. I am interested in him and his day (even if all his doing is babbling and I have no clue what he is saying). I want to be close to him. I want to hug him and cuddle with him. I want to read to him and help him eat his dinner. I want to be with him. I am "his father." This is the closeness that the Lord tells us we have and that we confess every time we take up this prayer, every time we call the Lord "our Father."
Yet, the very next thing we say is that he is "in Heaven." This is what always gives me pause. You see, we declare that he is "our Father," and then we say that he is "in Heaven." The first words tell us he is close and the second let us know that he is not like us, but in fact, is separate from us, or in theological language the first words tell us that he is immanent and the second that he is transcendent.
Paul says that in God, "we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). Paul tells us that God is immanent. He is present to us. Therefore, we should not consider God's transcendence as something that spacial. It is not that God is not in this world. In fact, when Scripture tells us that God dwells in Heaven, we should remember that Heaven is a created space. It is part of creation. God's transcendence does not mean that God is utterly removed from creation. The transcendence of God tells us that he is distinct from creation. Even in his indwelling of Christians, he remains higher and different from them. Transcendence teaches us that the Creator is distinct from his creation.
God, in his nature, is transcendent. Thus, we need God to come close to us, to reveal himself to us, for us to know him. He needs to condescend to our level, he must make himself immanent. When he does this, we call it revelation. We find the grandest expression of revelation in his Son. I am reminded here of what Bavinck said in this lengthy quote:
The foundations of creation and redemption are the same. The Logos who became flesh is the same by whom all things were made. The first-born from the dead is also the first-born of every creature. The Son, whom the Father made heir of all things, is the same by whom he also made the worlds. Notwithstanding the separation wrought by sin, there is a progressive approach of God to his creatures. The transcendence does not cease to exist, but becomes an ever deeper immanence.
The same God who flung the world into existence, who is the creator of all things, came to us in the person of his Son. The Lord reveals himself to us in Christ. The Lord approaches us, so that we can approach him. As we are drawn closer to him, we find that we can pray even more truly "Our Father in Heaven." He is our Father and yet he dwells in Heaven. He is our Father and yet he his our creator. He is in Heaven and yet he stoops down to have a relationship with us. He is Our Father in Heaven.
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