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    Our Father

    Why Our Heavenly Father Is Worthy of Our Confidence

    By Cyprian of Carthage, N. T. Wright, Hannah Whitall Smith, Teresa of Ávila, and Dom Hélder Câmara

    August 10, 2021
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    This article is an excerpt from Following the Call: Living the Sermon on the Mount Together.


    Our Father in heaven … (Matthew 6:9)

    Cyprian of Carthage

    And so, dear friends, since we call God our Father, let us remember to act like children of God, so that he may find pleasure in having us as his children, just as we do in having him as our Father.

    N. T. Wright

    The word “Father” concentrates our attention on the doubly revolutionary message and mission of Jesus. It is the Exodus-message, the message that tyrants and oppressors rightly fear. But it isn’t a message of simple human revolution. Most revolutions breed new tyrannies; not this one. This is the Father’s revolution. It comes through the suffering and death of the Son. That’s why, at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, we pray to be delivered from the great tribulation; which is, not surprisingly, what Jesus told his disciples to pray for in the garden. This revolution comes about through the Messiah, and his people, sharing and bearing the pain of the world, that the world may be healed. This is the kingdom-message, the Advent-message.

    But if we in turn are to be the messengers, we need to learn to pray this prayer. We, too, need to learn what it means to call God “Father,” and we mustn’t be surprised when we find ourselves startled by what it means. The one thing you can be sure of with God is that you can’t predict what he’s going to do next. That’s why calling God “Father” is the great act of faith, of holy boldness, of risk. Saying “Our Father” isn’t just the boldness, the sheer cheek, of walking into the presence of the living and almighty God and saying “Hi, Dad.” It is the boldness, the sheer total risk, of saying quietly “Please may I, too, be considered an apprentice son.” It means signing on for the kingdom of God. …

    When we call God “Father,” we are called to step out, as apprentice children, into a world of pain and darkness. We will find that darkness all around us; it will terrify us, precisely because it will remind us of the darkness inside our own selves. The temptation then is to switch off the news, to shut out the pain of the world, to create a painless world for ourselves. A good deal of our contemporary culture is designed to do exactly that. No wonder people find it hard to pray. But if, as the people of the living creator God, we respond to the call to be his sons and daughters; if we take the risk of calling him Father; then we are called to be the people through whom the pain of the world is held in the healing light of the love of God. And we then discover that we want to pray, and need to pray, this prayer. Father; Our Father; Our Father in heaven; Our Father in heaven, may your name be honored. That is, may you be worshipped by your whole creation; may the whole cosmos resound with your praise; may the whole world be freed from injustice, disfigurement, sin, and death. …

    Jesus took the risk of referring to God obliquely. In John’s gospel, one of his regular ways of talking about God was “the Father who sent me.” He wanted people to discover who the Father really was by seeing what he, Jesus, was doing. When we call God “Father,” we are making the same astonishing, crazy, utterly risky claim. The mission of the church is contained in that word; the failure of the church is highlighted by that word. But the failure, too, is taken care of in the prayer, and in the cross. Our task is to grow up into the Our Father, to dare to impersonate our older brother, seeking daily bread and daily forgiveness as we do so: to wear his clothes, to walk in his shoes, to feast at his table, to weep with him in the garden, to share his suffering, and to know his victory.

    black and white photo of someones hands forming a bowl on a potters wheel

    Photograph by Quino Al

    Hannah Whitall Smith

    “Behold,” says the apostle John, “what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.” The “manner of love” bestowed upon us is the love of a father for his son, a tender protecting love, that knows our weakness and our need, and cares for us accordingly. He treats us as sons, and all he asks in return is that we shall treat him as a father, whom we can trust without anxiety. We must take the son’s place of dependence and trust, and must let him keep the father’s place of care and responsibility. Because we are the children and he is the Father, we must let him do the father’s part. Too often we take upon our own shoulders the father’s part, and try to take care of and provide for ourselves. But no good earthly father would want his children to take upon their young shoulders the burden of his duties, and surely much less would our heavenly Father want to lay upon us the burden of his. …

    What utter folly it all is! If ever an earthly father was worthy of the confidence of his children, surely much more is our heavenly Father worthy of our confidence. And why it is that so few of his children trust him can only be because they have not yet found out that he is really their Father.

    Teresa of Ávila

    Avoid being bashful with God, as some people are, in the belief that they are being humble. It would not be humility on your part if the king were to do you a favor and you refused to accept it; but you would be showing humility by taking it, and being pleased with it, yet realizing how far you are from deserving it. A fine humility it would be if I had the emperor of heaven and earth in my house, coming to it to do me a favor and to delight in my company, and I were so humble that I would not answer his questions, nor remain with him, nor accept what he gave me, but left him alone. Or if he were to speak to me and beg me to ask for what I wanted, and I were so humble that I preferred to remain poor and even let him go away, so that he would see I had not sufficient resolution. Have nothing to do with that kind of humility, daughters, but speak with him as with a father, a brother, a lord, and a spouse – and, sometimes in one way and sometimes in another, he will teach you what you must do to please him.

    Dom Hélder Câmara

    Are we really convinced that God is the Father of us all? Not merely “my” Father, but “our” Father. If he is “ours,” then we are all brothers and sisters. …

    When I was in Rio de Janeiro, one day a man came to see me. He was from Fortaleza, the town where I was born and grew up. He hadn’t been able to find a job. I tried to help him. I wrote to a friend of mine who owned a big shop: “Dear friend, see if you can take Antonio on. He’s my brother, my blood- brother. He hasn’t any work and he’s hungry. Can you give my brother, my blood-brother Antonio, a job?”

    My friend was on the telephone to me immediately: “Look, your brother Antonio’s just arrived. I’ve given him a job. But, Dom Helder, how can your brother have possibly fallen into such poverty – your own brother?”

    “Is he really with you already?”

    “Yes, he is. And I’ve also given him some clothes and shoes since he was looking like a tramp. But I suspect you told me he’s your brother so that I wouldn’t be able to refuse.”

    “Not at all. He is my brother, I tell you.”

    “Brother, brother: I know, all the world’s your brother!”

    “Honestly, he is my brother. We’ve got the same Father.”

    “Didn’t you tell me: blood-brother?”

    “We call those blood-brothers who have the same blood of the same father in their veins. So there you are: Christ shed the same blood for you, for me, for Antonio. So we’re brothers in the blood of Christ.”

    Yes, the Lord requires that, having prayed and, precisely because we have prayed, being filled with the Spirit of God, we turn our gaze on our human brothers and sisters.


    Sources: Cyprian of Carthage, The Lord’s Prayer, trans. Edmond Bonin (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1983), 33–34. N. T. Wright, The Lord and His Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), 6–11. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. Hannah Whitall Smith, The God of All Comfort (Chicago, IL: Moody, 1956), 89–90. Teresa of Ávila, The Way of Perfection, trans. E. Allison Peers (New York: Image Books, 1964), 109. Dom Hélder Câmara, Through the Gospel with Dom Hélder Câmara (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1986), 57–59.

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