Enjoying God as He Is
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Today is Father's Day. My six-year-old and I have been looking forward to this day for weeks. On Mother's Day he took his mother out to Chili's. We made a big deal about him opening the door and all. We gave him some money so he could pay. It really did something for him to do something for Mom. It is really true what Jesus said about finding yourself in serving others, even for six-year-olds.
When we got to talking about Father's Day, I told Dawson I didn't want to go for a normal meal, I wanted to go to Golden Corral and get nothing but the sundae bar. (Golden Corral was the obvious Dad's Day choice because Mom does not like it all that well and it has become a special place for father and son to go together.) We talked about it many times during the weeks between Mother's Day and Father's Day.
"What are we going to do on Father's Day, Son?"
"We are going to go to Golden Corral and get nothing but ice cream!"
"Nothing good for us?"
"No, nothing but ice cream."
"How much ice cream are you going to eat?"
"A thousand, thousand, thousand bowls"
"And are you going to have candy with it too?"
"How much candy?"
"A million scrillion trillion billion"
"How many days? . . ."
When the long awaited day came I was awakened by a full body hug from Dawson and an exuberant, "Happy Father's Day!" I got up and explained to Dawson that I had to go to work but would be home in three hours so we could go to Golden Corral and get nothing but ice cream. (My family attends Saturday Night church. My wife has not been to Sunday morning church in years and my children know nothing but a Saturday night church tradition.)
When I got home from church my boy had dressed up, tucked his shirt in, had some new boots on and was cute enough to make a dad cry. He was so proud to do something for dad. It is a curious dynamic. You are not sure who is doing for whom. In a way, he is doing for me, but really, I set the whole thing up to do for him, because I knew he would love it. I really didn't anticipate how much it would touch me. It is one of those memories that a parent treasures all of life.
We sat there at a table for two and talked about Nintendo and swimming and ice cream. For some reason he decided at the last minute to go ahead and eat a full meal, as well as ice cream. He stuffed himself with macaroni and cheese so he was only able to eat a half a bowl of ice cream. I told him I thought that was incredibly poor planning on his part. He caught my humor and smiled back.
It was one of those rare moments that you dream of fathering being. You wish it could be this way all the time. We didn't fight, I didn't have to discipline him about the least little thing. We laughed a lot and talked mostly about things he was interested in. Even the silence was not awkward. We just enjoyed being together. Next year, we are going to make a batch of cookies and eat the whole bowl of raw dough, something a mom would never let you do.
Reflecting on the day, I thought about this book I am working on. I thought about the fact that Jesus' favorite term for God was Father. And when he taught us to pray, he taught us to begin with the word "Father" (Matthew 6:9) Was it because he wants to create that kind of relationship with us--like I had with my son today--everyday? I think it is.
In the letters Paul uses an even more personal word for father. It is not translated in our Bibles, it is transliterated. This means that the translators do not give us a word for word definition of the word, they simply bring the letters across letter for letter. The Greek word, or more precisely, the Aramaic word, is "Abba." Let me explain.
The Bible was written in a bilingual culture, much like here in New Mexico. (Actually it was trilingual--Greek, Aramaic, and Latin.) Because of the influence of Alexander the Great some 300 years earlier, the predominant language of commerce was Greek. When you wanted to buy, sell, trade, or do business, you spoke Greek. The Jews, or course, spoke Aramaic, which was a late form of Hebrew, mixed with a few other Semitic languages. Aramaic was the mother tongue.
The New Testament is written in Greek. This would give it the widest reading to both Jews and Gentiles. We can be thankful for this, too, because Greek is an incredibly precise language, full of rich meaning and color not always available in every language, including English. But, the important thing is to remember that this was a Jewish, Aramaic speaking person writing to other Jewish, Aramaic speaking people.
Another example of this dynamic is in the garden tomb. When Mary met Jesus, she did not use the formal language of commerce. Rather, she slipped instantly back into the mother tongue, "Rabboni" (John 20:16).
We have a similar dynamic in our area. Spanish speaking people nearly all speak English, especially the younger ones. English is spoken in the schools, the stores, in restaurants and on the street. But in many Spanish homes they speak predominantly Spanish. And when a Spanish dad wants to use a term of endearment with his son, he does not call him "Son", he calls him, "Meho." No matter how well educated, no matter how well they know English, no matter how indoctrinated in the Anglo culture, a dad would still call his son "Meho." There is something about that mother tongue that communicates something that mere phonetics cannot.
And when Paul wanted to communicate to fellow Jews the fact that they could call God father, he searched the Greek language to find a word that communicated the heart of it He couldn't find one. So he abandons the Greek, this highly specialized, technical language, to pick up the mother tongue and says, "God says to us, just call me, 'Abba.'" To give a word for word translation is only to say, "Dad". To see this switch in language is to catch the heart.
People who enjoy God see him primarily as Father, Dad. If they are Spanish, they hear him say to them, "Meho." And like a lot of sons, they are really proud of their dads. They like him just the way he is. If they could, they would not change anything about God. And they live, not only to avoid grieving the Spirit of God, but also to give the heavenly Father days like I had today--Father's Day at Golden Corral.
People who enjoy God like God just the way He is. If they could, they would not change anything about God. They are not frustrated by his wrath, his sovereignty, his holiness, or his outlandish mercy that will even forgive the people who have wronged us. J.I. Packer is right; there is nothing like the joy of knowing Him:(1)
What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the 'eternal life' that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. 'This is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent' (John 17:3) What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, more delight, and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. 'Thus sayeth the Lord, let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might. Let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understands and knows me' (Jeremiah 9:23ff). What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives Him most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. 'I desire. . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings, 'says God. (Hosea 6:8)
They can't necessarily explain everything about God. They really look forward to sitting down with the Father and asking some questions for days on end. When you have eternity there is time for that. They don't have air tight arguments justifying everything that God has or has not done. They don't need them. They trust Him. And they figure He knows best.
People who do not enjoy God need tidy explanations and never seem quite satisfied. You get the impression they secretly think they could do a better job of running the universe. Not so with people who enjoy God. They are content to stay out of the oval office, except for the times they obey God by making requests of him. They are not trying to control God.
As we have seen, there is a tight relationship between knowing God and enjoying God. Notice I did not say knowing about God, but rather, knowing God. But, there is a tight relationship here as well. It is impossible to know God without knowing about Him. There is more to knowing a person than memorizing their biographical data, but if you did not know where they were from, where they worked, and something of their likes and dislikes--you would not know them at all. In the same way, to pretend we can enjoy God without knowing about Him--His attributes, His character, His personality, His likes and dislikes, is naive. Oh, we can enjoy Him for a while, as a baby enjoys his mother's breast. But after a while we must grow past this. We must know a person to enjoy them.
There is a precise relationship between knowing about God and knowing God that Packer spells out for us, "How can we do this? How can we turn knowledge about God into knowledge of God. The rule for doing this is demanding, but simple. It is that we turn each thought that we learn about God into a matter of meditation before God, leading to prayer and praise to God."(2) If you miss this paragraph of instructions, you will be tempted to believe that Knowing God is little more than a dressed up theology on the attributes of God.
This section is to be read this way. This is not prose; it is poetry. Read it as such. Set the book down often, lift your hands to heaven--go ahead, no one is looking--and cry hallelujah, yeah God! Rejoice in our immutable, loving, merciful, wrathful, all-knowing, everywhere God. This is how we turn knowing about God to knowing God.
1. J.I. Packer Knowing God, p. 29.
2. J.I. Packer, Knowing God, p. 18.