To all you who are thinking this is about a mediocre 70’s Swedish girl-band, sorry, it’s not. It’s about Mark 14:36. Today is Father’s Day. It’s a day to honor all the fathers in our lives: our biological fathers; our adopted fathers; our step-fathers; our fathers-in-law; our grandfathers; our sons and our brothers who are fathers, or who will be fathers.
And most of all, hopefully, to honor our Heavenly Father.
Don’t you think it’s interesting that the God of this world and of the whole universe; the being that is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient; the being who could choose any title or any name he wants, seeks simply to be addressed as Father?
What I find even more interesting is how many of us really don’t want to have a parent/child relationship with him. We actually wish he’d act more like a grandfather than a father. Let me explain.
Typically grandparents have a great relationship with their grandchildren – because they spoil them. They delight in spoiling them. They leave the expecting and the demanding and the disciplining and the correcting and the conflicting and the lesson-teaching to the parents. They’ve already been there and done that with their own kids. Now they get to be the good guys. It’s a win-win situation for the grandparents and grandchildren.
But all kids need parents. Kids and parents have to deal with the day-to-day stuff. Parents have to teach children right and wrong. They have to teach about choices and consequences. They have to set and enforce limits and regulations. It’s a full-time job. It’s a difficult job. It wears on everyone, but it truly is in the child’s best interest.
To not parent a child is no favor to him. It will leave him ill-prepared for life. It will leave him weak and unfulfilled. It may grant him temporary pleasure, but it will deny him lasting happiness.
Most kids don’t have to account much to their grandparents. Certainly not every day. Typically grandparents keep their distance and they keep quiet. They don’t expect much, or at least they don’t vocalize those expectations. What grandparents are supposed to do is show up for all the big stuff – competitive games, performances, graduations, birthdays, holidays, weddings, funerals. And not only are they expected to show up, but they’re expected to show up ready to cheer, to praise and affirm, or bearing a nice gift or a fat check. They’re supposed to tell us how wonderful we are or how proud they are of us, and then they’re supposed to go back home and leave us alone until the next big event. We may think to thank them, or we may not. Either way, they’re supposed to overlook our ingratitude or our thoughtlessness, and show up at the next milestone and bless us again.
Sadly, that’s exactly the type of limited interaction too many of us seek with our Heavenly Father. We really don’t want to have to account to him every day. Praying takes too long and we’re too busy. Besides we can’t see that praying makes any difference anyway. We resent having standards and rules to live up to. We resent being reminded that we’re falling short or that we need to change. We’re so busy. Can’t we just do what we want to do? Why all these restrictions or expectations? Why does that matter? Why do we have to check in? Why do we have to do what he wants, when it’s so different from what we want? Can’t we just live our own lives? Can’t we just have fun?
But then, before a big test, or a big game, during a challenging situation, or a difficult illness, and certainly at a wedding, or a funeral, or at Christmas or Easter… all of a sudden, we think about God again. We want him there. We want his approval, his blessing, and his support. And then after that event passes, we want him to go back home and leave us alone until we invite him back again. He can’t ask anything of us, but he can certainly bless us because that’s his role.
God didn’t ask to be called Grandpa. He asked to be called Father because we need him to be our Father. It’s the only way he can really show us how much he loves us. He loves us enough to deal with the day-to-day demanding stuff. His rules and regulations are there to help us be our best and to keep us from hurting ourselves and from hurting others.
We need to recognize his authority. We need to respect him. I think it’s healthy to even be a little fearful of him. Just like it’s healthy to be a little fearful of our parents. Not fearful in the sense that he or they would hurt us, but fearful because we recognize that he or they can exert certain control over us. We understand who is really in charge. Everything we have is really just on loan from him.
Better than fearful would be to establish a true deep meaningful relationship of mutual love. In my own family, when our children were younger sometimes they resented our counsel. Now that they’re older often they come seeking it. They really value what we have to say. They know they can trust us because they realize we love them and only want what’s best for them.
That doesn’t mean we always have easy answers or immediate resolutions for them, but hopefully, we can help them learn what they ultimately have to learn for themselves. Ideally, we mature into that type of relationship with our Heavenly Father, too. We don’t resent his interactions or interventions, we welcome them. We trust that his counsel is always in our best interest, even when it isn’t easy or immediate.
Which gets us back to Mark 14:36. Here, Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane. He’s anticipating the atonement and the crucifixion. He knows a little bit about what is coming. He knows he agreed to do it, but now he’s wondering if there isn’t some other way. So he’s pleading with his Heavenly Father (and our Heavenly Father) to give him an out:
“And he said, Abba, Father, all things are possible unto thee; take away this cup from me: nevertheless not what I will, but what thou wilt.”Mark 14:36
The titles Jesus uses when addressing him is telling. It reveals what type of relationship he had/has with Heavenly Father. “Abba” is a personal, familial term for father as used in Hebrew. It is a title of honor. It is an intimate name for our Father in Heaven. An instructor of mine said it roughly translates to “daddy” or “papa”. So here is Christ. An adult man. A god, prone on the ground pleading with his father and calling him “daddy” and hoping He has an easy way out for him.
He doesn’t. He has to let his son go through with the plan. He has to let him suffer. He even withdraws his spirit and leaves him to suffer alone. I don’t know if a grandparent could do that. But a loving father could. Because Heavenly Father knew Christ had to experience what he did for his sake – and for ours.
All too often, that’s what real parenting is all about. I hope we appreciate rather than resent the real parenting we received from our fathers, and especially the real parenting we receive from our Heavenly Father. I hope we know we can trust him. I hope we know he only wants what’s best for us.
And I hope when things are rough, our relationship with him is intimate enough that we’re comfortable calling him Abba.
Earthly Father, Heavenly Father (video link)
“Fathers” – Elder D. Todd Christofferson, April 2016
“The Hands of the Fathers” – Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, April 1999
“Am I a Child of God?” – Elder Brian K. Taylor, April 2018