One of the groups we go to regularly is called Little Sheep, which takes place at our church, Holy Trinity Cambridge, on Wednesday afternoons. There is an activity for all the parents to do (recent ones that spring to mind were making fresh pasta, making a magnetic fishing game for toddlers, coming up with and sharing present ideas for children of various ages, a clothes swap), and the children have fun playing with toys and are looked after by volunteers from the church. Anyone with children under 4 is welcome to go. Every week there is a ‘thought for the day’, which has been described as ‘a bit like the ones on radio 4 but less intellectual’! A few of the leaders and other mums who go to the church take it in turns to give the thought each week, and we are usually given a broad topic to talk on however we’d like. This week it was my turn, and my topic was Father’s day. So this is what I said…..
As it’s Fathers’ I’ve been asked to do a thought for the day on God being our Heavenly Father. A couple of weeks ago, the daily Bible reading and short study that I get sent by email was from the book of Romans (which is Paul’s letter to the early church in Rome), chapter 8. You can read the whole passage and notes here. Verse 15 in the passage says that ‘the Spirit [that’s the Holy Spirit] you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba Father.’
Now I’d read and heard this verse read many times before, it’s quite a well known one, often used to illustrate that God is not a distant Father but one who we can run to like a small child and he will be there for us – ‘Abba’ is the Aramaic (or Hebrew) word for ‘Daddy’ rather than the more formal ‘Father’. I love thinking of God like this, someone I can turn to for a hug if things aren’t going well, and someone who genuinely cares, just like a good father here on Earth cares for his children. I think this hits home to me even more now that I see Andrew running to his Daddy when he comes home from work, shouting excitedly “Daddy, Daddy!”, and his Daddy picks him up and gives him a big hug. That’s how God wants to be to us, and I imagine myself running to him shouting “Daddy” and him giving me a big hug.
Going back to the verse from Romans, the first part of it talks about our adoption to sonship through the Holy Spirit. I understood this on quite a superficial level before, and it always reminds me of a rather cheesy 80s worship song that has the line “Now I am your child, I am adopted in your family, and I will never be alone, cos Father God you’re there beside me”. But my study notes email a couple of weeks ago gave some background on what this meant in the context of the Roman Empire at the time that the events of the book took place and therefore what it would have meant to the original readers.
In first-century Rome, wealthy people would often adopt a young boy (who was often one of their slaves) to become their son. This adoption was a public act, and the boy received a new status and security, a new family and inheritance; an adopted son, unlike a biological son, could never be disowned or abandoned, and he could go to his adoptive father whenever he wanted. So when Paul, the writer of this letter to the church in Rome, uses the word ‘adopted’ when talking about these early Christians’ relationship with God, the same is true, and the same is also true for anyone who believes in Jesus today: God is our Heavenly Father who has adopted us into His family – we have a new security in God rather than worldly things, a new family including all the other Christians in the world, and our new inheritance is a new life in Jesus that lasts beyond our life on this earth.
This analogy with Roman adoption isn’t something I knew about until the Bible study recently. And now that I do know this context, the meaning of the verse is even clearer to me. I know that God will never abandon me. I know that I am blessed with a good relationship with my parents, but if that wasn’t the case, I imagine that it would be a great comfort to know that God my Heavenly Father would be someone to turn to.
Whatever your relationship with your own dad is this Fathers’ day – maybe it’s good, maybe it’s not, maybe your Dad isn’t around any more – wouldn’t it be amazing if you had someone even bigger and even better to run to calling ‘Daddy’ just like a child?