Sunday, June 17, 2007

Karl Barth on "Our Father"

On this Father's Day, I thought it might be appropriate to revisit a meditation by Karl Barth on a portion of the Lord's Prayer, "Our Father." Whether or not you are a dad, whether or not you had a father who was in any way adequate in his role, consider the complete adequacy of our heavenly Father.

We are bidden to pray. This presupposes everything that has been said above about prayer in general. But this is the important point : we are told to pray : Our Father who art in heaven. It is Jesus Christ who bids us call on God and address him as our Father; Jesus Christ who is the Son of God, who has made himself our brother and makes us his brothers. He takes us with him, to make us his companions, and places us at his side, so that we may live and act as his brothers and members of his body. He says to us, 'Follow me.'

The 'Our Father' is not just any form of prayer to be used by anyone, no matter who; it presupposes 'us': Our Father; one who is a Father to us in a unique way. This 'us' derives from Jesus Christ's command to follow him; it implies that the man who prays is in communion with Jesus Christ and dwells in the brotherhood of the sons of God. Jesus Christ calls, allows, commands man to be joined with him, more especially in his intercession with God, his Father. Jesus Christ calls us, commands us, allows us to speak with him to God, to pray his prayer with him, to be united with him in the Lord's Prayer, and thus to adore God, to pray to God and to praise him with one voice and one soul in union with Christ himself.

This 'us', moreover, means that the man who prays is in communion with all those who are in his company and who, like him, are bidden to pray; who have received the same call, the same command, the same permission to pray at Christ's side. We pray 'Our Father' in the fellowship of that company, that congregation which we call the Church (the ecclesia).

But while we are in communion with the saints, the ecclesia of those who are gathered together by Jesus Christ, we are also in communion with those who, perhaps, do not pray as yet but for whom Christ prays, since he prays for all mankind. Mankind is the object of his intercession and we, therefore, enter into this communion with all mankind. When Christians pray, they are, so to speak, substitutes for all those who do not pray; and, in this sense, they are in communion with them, in the same way as Jesus Christ has made himself one with sinful man and lost humanity.

Our Father: thou who hast begotten us, brought us into being by thy Word and thy Spirit; thou who art our Father because thou hast created us, the Lord of the Covenant which thou hast been pleased to make with man, thou in whom and with whom our life began, and in whom it finds its completion.

Our Father :on whom our whole existence in time and eternity depends; God the Father, whose glory is our inheritance, whom we may freely approach, like children to their father!

Our Father, thou who by nature art always ready to hear us and to answer us. But we constantly forget it.... We may deny God, but he can never forget us or deny us. The Father, by his very nature, is faithful; he is high above us for ever and his good will towards us can never change.

That is what God is to us. But we must admit that we have no right to address him thus, to be his children or to approach him in this way. He is our Father and we are his children in virtue of the natural relationship which exists between him and Jesus Christ, in virtue of that fatherhood and that sonship which actually existed in the person of Jesus Christ, and which have reality for us in him. We are his children and he is our Father in virtue of that new birth accomplished at Christmas, on Good Friday and at Easter, and made effective at our baptism. A new birth, that is to say, a completely new order of being, a life entirely different from what our human potentialities or merits could produce.

God our Father means our merciful Father; we ourselves are and always will be prodigal sons who can claim no rights save the one given to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

This does not imply any diminution of what has been said about the divine fatherhood. The splendour and the certainty, the very greatness and majesty of our Father are manifested in the fact that we stand before him without power or worth, without real faith and with empty hands. And yet, in Christ, we are God's children. We can contribute nothing whatever of our own to make the reality of that sonship more certain : divine reality alone is the fulness of all reality.

Jesus Christ is the source and the warrant for the divine Fatherhood and our sonship; for this reason that fatherhood and that sonship are incomparably superior to all the relationships among ourselves which we denote by the terms father, son, children. These human relationships are not the original of which the other could be the image or symbol. The true and original fatherhood and sonship subsist in the bonds which God has created between himself and us. Anything that exists among us is only the image of that original sonship. When we call God our Father, we are not using symbols, but are experiencing the full reality of the words 'father' and 'son'.

"Prayer and Preaching," by Karl Barth

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