Monday, January 5, 2009

Mike: The Lord's Prayer Continued, 1-5-09 Post

Your understanding of the meaning of "God" sometimes reminds me of that shared by some ancient Greek philosophies and Christian thelogical systems heavily influenced by Greek philosophical thought. That being said, let's unpack the Lord's Prayer. It should be interesting to see where our understanding intersects or diverges.

The prayer opens with "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name."

Prayer forms us, and the Lord's Prayer begins the ongoing process with it's first term: "Our." The prayer does not begin with "My Father," but with "Our Father." Immediately, Jesus pushes us to step away from the rank individualism which characterizes much of modern American Christianity and discover (or rediscover)that we are one humanity before God.

Taken seriously, over time the insight may transform our perspective. At first, it challenges our egoism, weakening our tendency to expect all the creation and God to center on us. As time goes on, and we become aware of the diversity of people praying the same words, we may begin to lay aside divides fueled by racism, ideology,economics, culture and nationalism. Eventually, we may realize God is the parent of all persons, even those who do not acknowledge this is so. The term "our" is subversive of all typical human divisions, leading us to acknowledge our kinship.

"Father" presents problems for any number of modern Christians, mostly because of a heightened sensitivity to gender issues. The term "Father" plays a critical role in the prayer, however. It translates the Greek term "Abba," which is the kind of intimate word a small child might use, the rough English equivilent being "Daddy." Praying the prayer encourages us to know the kind of God who is approachable, who loves us, and who wishes to nurture us.

Christian commentators of past generations often contrasted such an image of God with the supposed first century Jewish notion of a distant, law-giving God. Commentators of the past half century or so have demolished this viewpoint, noting that ancient Judaism held a position similar to that of Jesus.

"In heaven" nicely balances "our Father." We may know God as our loving parent, but we must not fall prey to the notion that we know all there is to know of God. The "God Who Can Be Experienced" is also the "God Beyond Knowing." Study and experience suggests most of us are inclined toward one or the other pole. Jesus's prayer keeps both poles in healthy tension.

"Hallowed be your name" concludes the opening sentence. We might paraphrase it as: "May your name be treated as holy." Here, it seems to me, Jesus weaves the great commandment against using the Lord's name in vain into the practice of prayer, giving it a postive spin. More importantly, perhaps, Jesus makes adoration of God a crucial component of prayer, and so of the life formed by the practice of prayer. Learning to adore (worship, bow the knee, pick your favorite word or phrase) is the only lasting antidote to worshiping one's self or some piece of the creation.

I look forward both to your response and to what you have to say about the Jewishness of the phrase.


Thanksgiving First said...

Greetings Rami and Mike and others:

I think that by reviewing the prophetic utterance of Zacharias as written in Luke 1: 67 - 75 to give a 'sign of the times' if you will of how people in those days perceived GOD and what they were hoping in regards to evidentally the promises given. esp. verse 74, "might serve him without fear". which also relates to the writer of Hebrews 12: 18 - 22 where the comparison of the old approach and reverance to GOD now fits more in tune with the Lord's prayer that Christ taught in regards to 'Father' or 'Abba' yet still in 'holiness of reverance' in that honor shall still be shown (and no mockery) even in approaching Him as a child would with a respectable Father.

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Rami. I love the idea of serving God without fear. I am so troubled when I talk with people and discover that in fact fear--fear of damnation especially--is at the heart of their faith.

I also find the metaphor of Father moving. I would of course balance it with Mother. I would also be hesitant to assume the posture of child means a little child. My relationship with my father now (he is 83, I am 57) to be far better and more fulfilling that when I was a kid.

I cannot imagine God wants us to literally be "as little children"-- screaming, crying, breaking our toys, demanding new ones, and punching one another over every little thing. In fact that is how we act already. I imagine that God wants us to be grown up children challenging him as Abram does to do justly even as he challenges us to do the same.

Thanksgiving First said...

that's right Rami.

When I first started reading the Bible (both old and new testaments)
I was so fearful of this God I was learning of. Then one day as I was reading Luke's account of Zacharias prophetic utterance I realized that I had not been the only one to fear him (in scary fear and afraid to come unto Him)...and I was soooo very relieved at reading Zacharia's sayings that I realized that this talk of a New Covenant was all about being able to approach GOD without fear and without intimidation but with grace and kindness.....I personally look at what Zachariah said as being the drift of the New Covenant that God wanted for Israel and the rest of mankind.

So referring to an Abba relationship (Fatherly) works well if one has a balanced good relationship with their parents. But some do not ( I for one) and it is not easy to interpret the One we call GOD as being a Father to us. I am so very pleased to know that you are having a good relationship with your father as we are about the same age and I am presently doing care-giving towards my dad as he is 87 and with some health conditions. I hope you have continued success in your time left with your dad...I do not know if I will be able to ever have the relationship that I would like to have with my dad so the relationship with the Father in Heaven is very dear and important to me.

As far as God's Son saying, 'except you come as little children you in no wise will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven"....He was clearly not talking about children's behaviours but He was talking about their intense interest in learning and being teachable. So it is when a child first learns to speak that he/she leans on receiving its understanding by its parents/guardians...and if the child is teachable then it is much easier. Not all children are teachable but clearly Christ was referring to the attitude of a newborn child desiring to learn of its new life.

"Attitude determines altitude
was a saying written on paper that was given to me several times when I first started reading the Bible (by different people and some I didn't even know). I then wondered if the Divine God was trying to tell me something. Years have passed and it is clear to me that He sent that message though it has been somewhat difficult to always maintain the right attitude!