Friday, July 22, 2011

Between Worlds

While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5.35-36)

A Day in the Life

In today’s Gospel (Mark 5.21-43), the writer tries his hand at narrative crosscutting. He gets one story going, interjects another, and finishes the first. Inasmuch as its events are sequential, the passage is linear. Yet Mark uses this technique to give us a day-in-the-life-of-Jesus snapshot to indicate there’s always a lot going on when and wherever He ministers. These 24 hours are especially eventful, and a sense of the distances Jesus and the disciples cover helps us gather how frenetic their days often were. Jesus spends the afternoon prior to today’s stories teaching on the Sea of Galilee’s western shore. Since He and most of the disciples are natives of this area, it’s where they feel most at home. The huge turnout to hear Jesus swamps the beach and a boat deck serves as His makeshift pulpit. When He finishes His lesson—the farming parables many of our preachers have discussed lately—the crowd doesn’t disperse. Jesus instructs the disciples to sail across the lake. At its widest, the Sea of Galilee spans a mere eight miles. But, as we quickly learn, it’s called a “sea” because conditions are frequently tempestuous and its opposite shore might as well be an ocean away.

A nasty squall kicks up overnight. The disciples panic and rouse Jesus from much-needed rest. After the foul weather lifts at His command, He chides them for allowing fear to overwhelm their faith in His guidance and protection. They land safely on Galilee’s eastern side, home to a predominately Gentile population steeped in Greek culture. The instant Jesus steps ashore, a naked madman tormented by evil spirits rushes toward Him, begging Jesus not to hurt him. As with the storm, Jesus speaks to the man’s chaos. The forces plaguing him plead with Jesus to drive them into a nearby drove of 2000 pigs—possibly more than He and the disciples have seen at one time, perhaps the first they’ve ever seen. The swine charge into the lake and drown. The locals are less impressed to find the madman clothed and in his right mind than furious over losing so many valuable animals. They order Jesus to leave. In roughly 15 hours’ time, He’s back where He started, on His turf, engulfed by another throng. Today’s reading picks up the story here.

Collision of Three Lives

The home crowd has learned how Jesus moves indicates what He wants to do. If He wants to teach, He picks a spot and they come to Him. If He wants to work miracles, He goes to them. Though rumors of His whereabouts travel swiftly either way, how He moves determines the type of crowd He attracts. Word of Jesus moving their way brings out people who don’t normally, or can’t possibly, attend His sermons—as happens with Jairus, a synagogue leader with a deathly ill 12-year-old daughter, and a woman bankrupted and housebound by a 12-year battle with menstrual hemorrhaging.

While Jesus is a popular favorite, the religious set views Him suspiciously. Based on Luke’s chronology, His own synagogue in Nazareth recently ran Him out of town, which no doubt set local tongues wagging. So Jairus takes a big risk when he seeks Jesus’s help. As does the woman whose “unclean” condition places her under house arrest. If seen in public, she’ll be excommunicated from her synagogue for endangering her village. Thus, we have the collision of three lives—a defamed Rabbi, desperate father, and determined lady—each of them bravely defying prejudice and taboo.

When Jairus finds Jesus, there’s no problem getting to Him. By alerting us to his status, Mark invites us to envision the crowd stepping aside for him and eavesdropping on his conversation. Some may gasp when Jairus falls before Jesus, begging Him to come to his house and heal his daughter. Others may be shocked when Jesus lets him beg repeatedly before agreeing to go. As He and Jairus set out, the crowd at their heels, Mark shifts to the woman.

Since it’s best she not to be recognized, the woman has to reach Jesus without benefit of social courtesy or personal kindness. In fact, she’s so wary of drawing attention she puts all her faith in touching Jesus’s clothes. Weak though she is, she pushes through the crowd until she’s able to graze His cloak. He senses power leaving Him and, to her horror, stops to ask who touched Him. A minor brouhaha ensues, with no one coming forward and the disciples’ asserting all He felt was random jostling. Jesus won’t budge. He scans the crowd. Only He and the woman know what He means. When their eyes meet, He’ll see she did it. In the face of backlash for ignoring religious law, she comes out to Him. “Knowing what had happened to her, [she] came in fear and trembling, fell down before Him, and told Him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease,’” Mark 5.33-34 says. Next we’re told stopping to call out the woman costs Jairus’s daughter’s life.

“While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’” verse 35 reads. As devastating as this news is, it could have waited. That business about not bothering Jesus explains the rush to get to Jairus. With his house overcome with grief, arriving with a controversial Rabbi in tow is the last thing he needs. Jesus overhears the foolish advice and tells Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.” (v36) He sends everyone but Peter, James, and John away and proceeds as planned. Walking into a scene pitched with hysterical mourning, He asks why everyone’s so upset. He’s nearly laughed out of the house when He tells them, “The child isn’t dead but sleeping.” (v39) Despite being enveloped by unbelief, Jesus honors the faith Jairus demonstrated by coming to Him and bringing Him home. He takes the little girl’s hand in His and commands her to wake up.

What We're Looking At

Mark (along with Matthew and Luke, as they embellish Mark) dovetails these two events with more in mind than literary flair or inserting a second plot to heighten the first’s suspense. Although we often detach the woman’s story from Jairus’s, both are better read and understood as all of a piece. Given what precedes it—Jesus’s parables about farmers who break traditional protocol, the back-and-forth crossing of the Sea of Galilee, the storm presaging the madman’s restoration, and the hostility it incites—as well as the background information on Jairus and the hemorrhaging lady, the narrative obtains parable-like force and dimension. We see what happens. But do we recognize what we’re looking at? Jesus, the disciples, Jairus, and the woman travel between worlds: from religion to faith, compliance to courage, comfort to dissonance, safety to risk. Changes they seek urge them to renounce caution and predictability. And in the process of moving between worlds, they’re asked to clear very high hurdles: life-threatening tumult, public humiliation, and ostensibly profound loss. In every case, Jesus answers its challenges with a variation of His word to Jairus: Do not fear. Only believe.

Settling for the world we know, conforming to its conventions and taboos, may alleviate fear. But it doesn’t create faith. For that, we choose to travel between worlds. We leave home shores, sailing stormy seas for places where mad people greet us, we see what we’ve always heard was foul and unhealthy looks like, and what we offer isn’t welcomed. Yet such journeys prepare us to enter chaotic, cynical environments where we must speak life in the face of derision and grief. We refuse to let what others think inhibit our desire to ask Jesus into our lives—even when we’re told not to bother Him. Though we live among people who view Him suspiciously, we bring Christ home and give Him charge of our house. We don’t succumb to religious insistence we’re social menaces to be kept from sight. We don’t forego faith and persistence when believers fearful of our touch make touching Jesus difficult. Nor do we permit social fall-out after our faith is found out to frighten us from publicly coming out as witnesses of Christ’s power. Do not fear. Only believe. It’s a mantra we travellers between worlds should tattoo on our hearts and minds.

O God, we pray our compulsion to find Christ, touch Christ, and witness Christ’s power will never diminish or relent. And we ask that You keep before us the reality that we’ll find everything we seek in Christ between worlds, where necessity makes faith flourish and miracles happen. Amen.

We travel between worlds because that’s how we find Christ and faith to touch Christ.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Not Thinking Ahead

Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat that I have butchered for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” (1 Samuel 25.10-11)

A Timely Tale Seldom Told

Today’s Old Testament reading (1 Samuel 25.1-22) takes a chapter from the married life of Nabal and Abigail. In light of sweeping financial crises and subsequent political turmoil that presently set the world on edge, it’s a timely tale seldom told. Its placement in the biblical narrative is also unsettling because it steals the spotlight from one of the most devastating losses in Israel’s history. In an oddly matter-of-fact tone, verse 1 informs us, “Now Samuel died; and all Israel assembled and mourned for him. They buried him at his home in Ramah. Then David got up and went down to the wilderness of Paran.” And that’s it. No funeral coverage, no in-depth analysis of how losing the prophet who ushered the Hebrews into nationhood affects Israel, no transcript of David’s eulogy—just, “Samuel dies. The people mourn. They bury him and David goes off to the wilderness of Paran.” Without so much as a transition, verse 2 begins the story of Nabal and Abigail.

Hang on. Before we dive into that drama, the mention of Paran tantalizes us with the prospect the writer has reason to include it. And he/she does. Paran is a vast desert extending SSE from Jerusalem’s outer perimeter to the Sinai. In Jewish mythology, it’s “where God dawns” and judgment originates. Most often, it’s associated with safety and survival, the place where the rejected find sanctuary and the lost sojourn while awaiting guidance. After they’re banished from Abraham’s house, Hagar and Ishmael settle in Paran. It’s where God’s presence, manifest as a cloud, leads the Hebrews to camp before undertaking the last leg of their journey. Thus, David’s venture into Paran fills in a lot of blanks. Samuel’s death deprives him of the rudder he’s relied on. The prophet’s integrity as God’s spokesperson was the critical link ensuring the nation’s health and prosperity. Without him, David doesn’t know what to do. So he goes to Paran, the Source, where God begins, judges, and shelters those without ties or direction.

A Favor

While David’s away, his herdsmen tend his flocks, though apparently not as well as when he’s there. From his desert retreat he dispatches 10 young men to call on Nabal, a rich rancher—a bona fide “job creator”—who’s shearing his flocks and due for an influx of cash. David tells them to approach Nabal in peace, reminding him their herds have shared pasture with his and they’ve never abused his shepherds or stolen his sheep. As king and neighbor, David appeals for a favor: could Nabal provide for David’s herdsmen until he returns? It’s little to ask. And given who’s asking, as well as the unfortunate circumstances behind the request, one would think he’d go out of his way be helpful. Think again.

Nabal’s reputation hangs on his wealth, smart and beautiful spouse, Abigail (trophy wife?), and nasty disposition. The text describes him as “surly and mean” (v4), but after seeing his response to David’s men, add miserly, self-important, uncaring, arrogant, imprudent, shortsighted, and disrespectful to the list—in short, a total buffoon. Once they tender the king’s request, Nabal replies, “Who is David? Who is the son of Jesse? There are many servants today who are breaking away from their masters. Shall I take my bread and my water and the meat that I have butchered for my shearers, and give it to men who come from I do not know where?” (v10-11)

Is he out of his mind? He’s just insulted his king—when David is grieving an irreplaceable loss and unsure of what to do, no less. His trumped-up excuse (the men might be impostors—might be) is a slap to the monarch’s face, implying David’s such a nobody that no one would think twice about using his name to con a rich man out of a few groceries. Nabal’s head is so swollen with greedy meanness there’s no room to entertain the possibility the request is legit, the men are legit, the need is legit, and his chance to reap rewards that money can’t buy is legit. His reasoning is so lame it’s bogus. “I’m not going to help because there are a lot of people abusing the good-neighbor system these days.” What if there are? The question Nabal needs to consider is, “What if I’m wrong?” And here’s the worst of it: Nabal knows he’s wrong, because he’s seen these men tending David’s sheep! He has no excuse. But selfishness won’t let him think that far, and next we see what comes from not thinking ahead. (Spoiler alert: the end, slated for tomorrow’s reading, is revealed.)

David explodes. He assembles a small army and heads for Nabal’s ranch. One of the miser’s shepherds gets to Abigail and tells her what happened. She can’t believe Nabal could be so stupid. She throws together as many supplies as she can gather and rushes to stop David before he strikes. She falls at his feet and begs his mercy. David won’t be deterred. “Pay no attention to that wicked man Nabal,” she pleads. “He is just like his name—his name means Fool and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent.” (v25) She urges David not to resort to bloodshed because of her husband’s idiocy and presents her offerings as an apology. “You fight the LORD’s battles,” she stresses, cleverly hinting this a personal matter, therefore beneath him, and appeals to his integrity as a righteous king and leader. One can almost read David’s mind. She is smart. She is beautiful. And she is convincing. It’s senseless to slaughter Nabal’s household and make a widow of Abigail because of his foolishness. David relents. Abigail goes home, where Nabal is throwing a party fit for a king! He’s drunk and full of himself. The next morning, when she explains what almost became of him and his wealth, he has a stroke. In 10 days’ time, he’s dead. If you know anything about David, you see the final twist coming: he marries Abigail.


A sea of present-day Nabals has overtaken us. It floods the airwaves, boils over in blogs and pollutes our social media. Nabals poison office water coolers and soak backyard barbecues in bile. Their response to the world condition is inexcusable and they know that, yet their selfishness doesn’t allow them to think that far. So they keep tossing out lame excuses that offer no help and flout their civic duty and moral responsibility. Request their help and generosity and they turn the tables. Their capacity to fix problems gets spun into why those who appeal for their help are con artists. Their swollen heads leave them no room to consider what befalls those who stare truth in the eye and insist it’s not true.

They know the crises confronting us are real. They know their surly indifference and meanness won’t solve anything. In their hearts they’re aware their greed and self-centeredness not only create many of our problems; they intensify them. They sense our grief and despondence. We’ve lost our rudder and can’t discern where to go or what’s next. They don’t care. They’re content with not thinking ahead. While they’re throwing parties fit for kings, drunk and full of themselves for having defied their consciences and leaders, comeuppance marches out of the desert, where God dawns, judgment originates, and the forsaken and lost take haven.

As disaster nears, we must become Abigails and throw ourselves on God’s mercy, interceding for innocent lives that will be destroyed by a full-scale outpouring of vengeance. This is a personal matter we beseech God to judge personally. The Nabals must be stopped, and when God’s judgment is levied, they will. It will come quickly, decisively, and finally—a just end for those whose names have come to mean Fool and whose folly goes with them.

Save us, O God, from the Nabals of our day. Deal with them swiftly and justly as You will and spare us greater grief from being swept up in their evil tide and the wrath it brings. Amen.

Surliness, meanness, greed—they’re all symptomatic of swollen heads that have no room to entertain the legitimacy of need or what befalls those who don’t think ahead.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Can't Scare Us!

The righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever. They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid. (Psalm 112.6-8)

Welcoming Life and All It Offers

Without batting an eye, I can say one of my greatest influences has been an amazing friend named Estie. It’s improbable you’d pick up how mighty and unstoppable she is by looking at her. On her tallest day—in heels—she’s not much over five feet tall. She’s not flashy in appearance or demeanor. At social gatherings, you’re less apt to find her in the middle of things than on the sidelines in rapt conversation. Estie can and will talk to anybody, because when you first meet her, she makes you the topic of choice. She doesn’t rely on the usual who-what-where battery of icebreakers, either. She plunges in, asking what you think about something she’s read or seen. What she really wants to know is what you’re about, as well as let you in on what she thinks and what she’s about. Her friends (who are legion) tell the same story: “I knew and loved Estie long before getting her facts—or giving her mine.” Months passed before I learned she was a mover and shaker in the financial markets or explained what I did for a living. It just never came up.

Years later, I still recall big chunks of our first talks, because, on top of everything else, Estie’s quite the quipster. Though she relocated and we’ve lost touch, a day seldom passes but what Walt or I don’t quote her. One of my all-time favorites: “Can’t scare me!” It’s rich coming from a tiny, unassuming person like her—and all the funnier for being true. You can tell Estie anything, take her anywhere, and introduce her to anyone without worry, as she’s fearless in welcoming life and all it offers. What comes her way may shock, distress, or confound her. But scare her? No. She knows what she thinks and what she’s about. Which is why Psalm 112’s praise for the righteous filled my head with a kaleidoscope of Esties—all knowing what they think, what they’re about, and ready to say, “Can’t scare us!”

Caught Unawares

The psalmist writes, “The righteous will never be moved; they will be remembered forever. They are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the LORD. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid.” (v6-8) When we look back at people and possibilities we feared, we tend to give them more credit than they deserve. Our tales get taller and, consequently, we get smaller. It’s helpful to revisit these experiences with backs turned to their challenges so we can take a closer look at us. Other than profoundly tragic events—which no one can adequately prepare to absorb—chances are we had no reason to fear what made us afraid. We were frightened because we were caught unawares. Spiritually, mentally, and emotionally we were out of shape. We’d let some things slide and taken others for granted. Our prayer lives were in the doldrums. Conversations with God’s Word were hit-and-miss. Responsiveness to the Spirit’s guidance and counsel was so-so. We rationalized excuses for indulging unhealthy impulses and detrimental habits. Fondness for petty attitudes and baseless suspicions returned. Our hearts weren’t firm. Faith and discipline that anchored our security in God weren’t reliable. Steadiness we needed—certainty in what we think and what we’re about—wasn’t there. And we were afraid.

The psalm’s equation of righteousness with fearlessness is very instructive. When we diligently align our thoughts and pursuits with what God tells us is right and good, we’re invulnerable to doubts and anxieties that provoke fear. Our hearts stay steady and our faith in God remains secure because we keep them steady and secure. There’s nothing more to do in the face of uncertainty than be who we are. The psalmist is very explicit about who “the righteous” are. They honor God and delight in pleasing God. (v1) God blesses them with prosperity, yet they remain loyal to God’s ways. (v3) They don’t conform to the world’s pessimistic practices and prejudices: “They rise in the darkness as a light for the upright; they are gracious, merciful, and righteous.” (v4) Verse 5 says they’re generous and giving, and they “conduct their affairs with justice.” No wonder they’re unshaken by trouble and unafraid of bad news. Trouble may appear from nowhere, but they’re never caught unawares. You can’t scare someone who knows the right thing to do—and how to do it, since she/he’s been doing the right thing all along, even when it wasn’t “necessary,” or necessarily advantageous. Righteousness permits us to answer fearsome challenges with “Can’t scare us!” It’s neither a boast nor a challenge. It’s just how it is.

Discipline Begets Daring

The big message here is discipline begets daring. How firm and steady our hearts are, how fearlessly we welcome life and all it offers, comes down to stewardship of resources. There’s only so much of what we’re given—time, energy, money, attention, compassion, patience, and on and on and on. Wisely managing it becomes the critical factor in maintaining righteous thoughts and behaviors that, in turn, save us from squandering what we’ve been given on unnecessary fears. We won’t take time to pray. But we’ll make time to worry. We won’t devote the energy to open God’s Word. But when trouble calls, we’ll wear ourselves out begging God to tell us what to do. We won’t part with pennies we don’t need to help the penniless. But we’ll blow small fortunes on diversions, medications, and counselors when we confront situations we’re unprepared to handle. Everything God provides is for our use. And we will use it. Either we’ll invest it wisely in disciplines that righteousness requires, or we’ll spend it recklessly, trying to placate fear’s demands.

“In the end,” the psalmist says, the righteous “will look in triumph on their foes. They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” (v8-9) Investment in righteous disciplines is a sure thing. It’s repaid many times over in confidence and courage to outlast our adversaries. “The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing,” verse 10 concludes. Will people take aim at us unjustly? Yes. Will they attempt to frighten us into compliance and conformity? Yes. Will circumstances conspire to undo us? Yes. They'll do all that and more. But we know what we think and what we’re about. The disciplines of righteousness have steadied our hearts and blessed us with daring. Whatever they do and however hard they try, they can’t scare us.

O God of all things right and good, we confess to submitting needlessly to fear because we’re unprepared for troubles that make us afraid. Instill in us a constant craving for righteousness and insatiable desire to invest wisely in its disciplines. Amen.

Daily discipline in righteousness steadies our hearts and prepares us to face trouble without fear.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Papa Principle

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8.14-15)

Irreconcilable Differences

Not long ago I caught an hour or so of Irreconcilable Differences, a comedy about a young girl who “divorces” her parents after their careers take off and leave her in the dust. I’d not seen it since it opened in 1984 as a star vehicle for the irrepressibly precocious Drew Barrymore, who’d charmed the world as Gertie, the little sister in E.T. I was chagrined by how little of it I retained. More than anything, it’s a scathing satire of movie stardom with the daughter’s lawsuit functioning as a magnifier of Hollywood vanity. I’d forgot the story had any connection to the film industry whatsoever. And I’d wager a large portion of those who’ve not seen it in years would be no less surprised.

We recall Irreconcilable Differences as “the movie about the kid who takes her parents to court,” because the movie arrived when topics like upper/middle-class child abuse, latch-key kids, cyclical family dysfunction, and regressive therapy techniques to elicit suppressed memories of childhood rape and torment were coming to the fore. In LA, where I lived at the time, the nightly news led with the McMartin investigation of a local pre-school staff accused of molesting 360 toddlers. (The charges were dismissed.) Dozens of similar reports flared up coast-to-coast. Untold thousands from reputedly “nice homes” and “decent neighborhoods” broke decades of silence to describe inhuman brutality they endured as children. Irreconcilable Differences, silly as it was, struck a very raw, very real nerve.

Child abuse and atrocious parenting are nothing new. Indeed, family dysfunction and violence are recurrent problems in biblical narratives. Openly discussing, dealing with, and trying to prevent these calamities are, however, new. Only in the past 30 years have we started to address the fact that heinous crimes against children cut across every social class and category. Only recently have we begun to digest how many of us battle specters of physical, psychological, and spiritual havoc unleashed by abusive parents and parental figures. It's inconceivable that this scourge should be so widespread. And it's hard to cope with how little we can do prevent it, as it's typically discovered after the fact.

Opening a text like today’s reading from Romans, where God’s mercy and acceptance are equated with those of a father, my heart breaks. How can those of us who’ve never known a parent’s love and kindness possibly embrace God as our Parent? How can those of us longing to help child abuse victims find healing and restoration in God’s unconditional love convey it without diminishing the justified rage and distrust they harbor? And yet the unparalleled love and acceptance Paul describes in Romans 8.12-17 is, in many ways, the answer to restoring confidence and self-worth child abusers steal from their victims. How do we overcome these seemingly irreconcilable differences so that the truth of God’s love reaches our hearts and strengthens our faith to reach for God’s love?


In verses 14-15, Paul writes, “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” The subject at hand is a Spirit-led life versus a carnal one. On a very subtle level, Paul appeals the Romans’ cosmopolitan sensibilities by framing faith as a lifestyle. Those who don’t believe act and think this way. Since you believe, you behave and think another way. But that premise only goes so far, because lifestyle inequities exist within the Roman faith community. It’s comprised of Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, and citizens and slaves—in other words, people who share little in common outside their faith in Christ. Once he’s made his point that believers and non-believers don’t approach life in the same manner, Paul switches gears to discuss faith as a family dynamic. He says, “The Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship,” a legal phrase indicating the adopted child receives full right of inheritance equal to that of a natural-born heir. No one is a slave or stepchild. No one is excluded from the privileges granted by the riches of God’s love, grace, and acceptance.

The adoption metaphor ups the ante from conscious lifestyle to irrefutable right to belong. It’s not adaptive behavior, but total inclusion. “And by him [the Spirit] we cry, Abba, Father,” Paul adds, using cultural shorthand to emphasize his point. Then, like now, “father” is the legal term for a male parent whose primary responsibility is to provide food, clothing, and shelter for his natural and adopted offspring. Also like now, the term doesn’t intrinsically suggest anything about the nature of the parent-child relationship. It can be used affectionately, but affection isn’t assumed. Furthermore, in light of Rome’s fiercely patriarchal society, law endows the father with total authority to do with his children as he pleases. They’re his property. He can sell them into slavery. He can treat them like slaves. He can disown them if they disobey him. He can disinherit them if they displease him.

In contrast, “abba” has no legal implications. It’s an Aramaic word for “father” that’s gained cross-cultural popularity as an affectionate term. It is to the Romans what “dad” and “papa” are to us—an elective form of address that denotes mutual love, trust, and respect between parent and child. The difference between “abba” and “father” is the difference between covenant and contract. “Abba” suggests loving promise; “father” suggests legal obligation. Thus, Paul underscores his adoption metaphor for God’s unconditional acceptance by reassuring us God is both Papa and Parent. God honors both covenant and contract. God promises and provides. God offers and complies. As God’s children, adopted by choice and guaranteed full rights of inheritance, our faith in God’s love, grace, and acceptance cannot be shaken. It’s our divinely granted privilege to call our God, “Abba, Father.”

Abba, God

The Papa Principle sets God apart from every mortal parent, from best to worst, by perfectly balancing parenthood’s emotional and practical requirements. All human parents fail in one area or another in one way or another at one time or another. Parents who love too much tend to overlook their obligations to correct their children and teach them self-discipline. Parents who are overly concerned about their obligations tend to withhold love and break promises. Then, saddest of all, there are parents who fail entirely, giving love their child needs to others (often themselves) and ignoring their parental duties to provide and protect the child. How we grieve for children forced to grow up in loveless, lawless homes. And we grieve all the more when their childhood of abject sorrow urges them to distrust God’s covenant of love and contract of provision. Healing and recovery they seek abides in Abba, God, Who can’t be compared to any mortal parent because no mortal parent could possibly compare to God.

God loves you. God has adopted you by choice, entitling you to full rights as God’s child. As a voluntarily loving Papa, God honors the promise to be everything you desire in a caring and faithful parent. As a legally obligated Parent, God complies with the expectation to provide for and protect your wellbeing. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God,” Paul writes. If struggles resulting from parental violence and abuse have thwarted your trust in God’s unconditional love and acceptance, I pray you’ll hear the Spirit’s call to follow Its lead. You are God’s child waiting to happen.

Abba, God, love us, hold us, and lift us from lifelong sorrow and suffering wrought at the hands of heartless abusers. God, our Parent, provide for us, protect us, and assure us of our inheritance as Your full and rightful heirs. Amen.

The most loving, faithful parent cannot be compared to God, because no parent could possibly equal the unconditional love and faithfulness of Abba,God.