The startling thing about Catholicism is that it is built on this idea that God is not a blob somewhere in the sky. God is not simply the Ultimate Force, the Gitchi Manitou, the First Mover, the Great Spirit, Being Itself. He has a name. He is personal. And he invites us to personally know him. “Those who know your name put their trust in you” (Ps. 9:10). And his name is Abba, Father.
[Note: this essay was first published by Ethika Politika and is reprinted with permission.]
From eternity, God’s Fatherhood is the foundation of his deity, the means of the Son and the Holy Spirit, who both proceed from the Father. And—it’s hard to say it out loud without doing a double take—in Christ we are swept up into this divine life. In Christ, we can call God “our Father who art in Heaven” (Matt. 6:9). The Gospel message is that we are made sons in the Son.
Who gets to pray the Lord’s Prayer? Who can boldly cry “Our Father”? The only answer is the children of God, those who by grace have been made sons in the Son.
The crazy thing about Catholicism is that, in the Son, the Holy Spirit fills our hearts with a prayer to the God we can know as Father. We are—and this is no small thing—children of God. The crazy thing about Catholicism is that we can know God’s name. We can pray the Pater Noster as nothing less than sons—sons in the Son.
Adoption is Better than Adaptation
St. John invites us to see it: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…Beloved, we are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:1).
We have not merely been adapted to a new situation, modified or tweaked. Salvation is more than an adjustment. This is regeneration. We’ve been taken in, embraced, adopted. This is how St. Paul describes this amazing story:
But when the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son an heir (Gal. 4:4-7; cf. Rom. 8:15-16).
St. Athanasius describes it this way: “God became man so that man might become God.” We have become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4). The Word became flesh “not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh, but by taking manhood up into God.” The Son of God united human nature to himself so that we might become part of the new creation by being incorporated into him. St. Irenaeus says the Son “became what we are, that he might bring us to be what he is himself.”
Filii in Filio, ex Patre et ad Patrem. By God’s grace, we are “sons in the Son, from the Father and to the Father like him.” And because we have been made sons in the Son, we have become the children of the Father! How did St. Paul put it? “[The Father] destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus” (Eph. 1:5).
Impartation is Deeper than Imputation
The eternal Son of God became a Son of Man so that we might become sons of God. Jesus died for you so that he might live in you. He doesn’t just put shiny wallpaper over your old nature. He rebuilds the whole room. He imparts an entirely new nature—one that is completely united with his. Even if you are a woman, you are a “son in the Son” because you are participating in the eternal Son’s Sonship. You’ve been totally renovated, re-created, “born from above.”
This is the gift of Christmas: to call God by name. To call the Creator of the Universe our Abba. As sons in the Son, we are made heirs of God’s Kingdom and the hope of everlasting enjoyment of God (John 14:2-3; Tit. 3:5-7)! By grace, we are one family in the household of God (1 Tim. 3:15). In love, the eternal Son calls us “brethren” (Heb. 2:11-17). It is all grace—all unmerited God love—that we may say, as the Son to the Father, Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…
To pray the Lord’s Prayer is to join in the prayer of the eternal Son, to catch a glimpse of the God who has revealed himself as love (1 John 4:8).
And Christ made this possible through Baptism. When we are baptized, we die, and Jesus becomes our life. “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him” (Rom. 6:8). To be born again is not to be metaphorically “born again.” It’s to be born all over again. Baptism is a life-changing reality. Christ not only forgives us of our sin, but also fills us with his Spirit. He puts the source of his life in the heart of our life—and the source of his life is his Sonship, his relationship to the Father. Jesus is eternally the Son of the Father. And since the Incarnation, he is now also forever the Son of Mary. When we are re-born into Jesus, we become “sons in the Son.”
Christ is not only our substitute. He’s our surety. “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Because we have come from the side of Christ, as flesh of his flesh and bone of his bones, we partake of the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21).
Here’s the beautiful thing that gender-neutral Bible translations, though well-intentioned, make us forget: Christ’s Sonship has been imparted to both mea and women equally. Sonship is open to all who would believe and be baptized—slave or free, male or female, “for you are all one man in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). “In Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26-27).
Prodigal is Bigger than Prodding
The Prodigal God—the extravagant, self-giving God—is bigger than the prodding, poking, calculating gods of our imagination. He is a God who invites us to know him—not as his lemmings, but as his children.
Now, of course no words capture God in his totality. But the words given to us by God himself are the most adequate and loving that can be found: the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit—all of it is love. They are the words of a prodigal God.
The most adorable Trinity’s invitation to know God as Father is the invitation home your soul is hungry for. Whatever comfort or happiness you have known elsewhere—it is nothing compared to the total joy of knowing God as Father. For our Father is not sitting behind locked doors in a distant office. He’s in the front yard and he’s running toward us, ready to lift us up into his arms: “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
In Baptism, we are made sons in the Son. This is only possible because God is not a blob somewhere in the sky. God is not simply the Great Spirit, the Gitchi Manitou, the First Mover, the Ultimate Force. He has a name. He is a person. And he invites every single one of us to know him personally.
To know God’s name is to know…God. And his name is Abba, Father. In Christ, we have received the Spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” the Spirit within us bears witness to the fact that we are—both men and women—nothing less than sons of God (Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 4:4-7). Oh how rich and sweet and root-down-deep it is to love the Father!
So who gets to pray the Lord’s Prayer? Who can boldly cry out “Our Father”? The only answer is the children of God, those who by grace have been made sons in the Son. To remember that we have been made “sons in the Son” is to remember that God is prodigal, extravagant, abounding in mercy, lavish in love, a God of endless, perfect Christmas presents: “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). Rest in this. Rejoice and revel in this. Pray in this: “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name” (Matt. 6:9-13). Praise God in this: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ!” (Eph. 1:3).
Read it in Ethika Politika.