Names and titles are such interesting things. On a purely human level, there was a time — even in this land of freedom and democracy — that everyone addressed their social betters as “Mr.” and “Mrs.” And when younger ones addressed every older person (and that could be a 21-year-old speaking to a 30-year-old) as “Sir” or “Ma’am”. But we have changed, and probably we have lost something that can never be retrieved.
One writer recently mused on the dining-out custom that has taken hold. He and his wife went for dinner to a fine, expensive restaurant, and were greeted by their very young server: “Hi there, my name is Tiffany (or Lance, or whatever!). And what are your names?” To which the fellow responded, “Mr. and Mrs. Cur- mudgeon, if you please!”
There is a leveling effect in the use of first names. Should it be a requirement that, five minutes after meeting someone, we should all be on a first-name basis? The teenager and the elder brother or sister? ‘We’re all equals here!’ And in some sense that is true. But hasn’t the 70-year-old, or the 50- or 30-year-old for that matter, somehow earned the right to be addressed by younger ones as “Mr. Booker”, or, in ecclesial settings, as “Brother Booker”, or maybe even “Brother George”, or “Uncle George”? (I think “Uncle” and “Aunt” are such wonderful ways for even the youngest, unbaptized children of brothers and sisters to address other Chris- tadelphians, because it reminds everyone that all those who have been baptized into Christ belong to the same family.)
I still cringe (maybe a lot of us do?) when I hear a child refer to his mother by her first name.
Ihaveaclient—ayoungwomanofabout30—whoalwayscallsme“Sir”.Once,I said, “Just call me George, please.” “No, sir,” she said, “I can’t do that. I was trained by my parents. I have to call you ‘Sir’. I can’t do anything else.”
The point? Even we human beings can have a variety of “names and titles”, all of which are appropriate in certain circumstances, but not so much so in other circumstances. Sometimes we may all disagree as to which “names and titles” are best in which circumstances. Such differences are partly the result of background, disposition, social training, and family example. Partly, too, they are the result of the age in which we live.
I remember talking with a Pentecostal minister who — while we talked about the Bible — kept referring to “Dad”, or occasionally “Daddy”. For the longest time I thought he was talking about his real (that is to say, natural, or human) father. Even when he mentioned that “Dad” was “in heaven”, I thought that of course his father had died, and that’s where the gentleman thought that he was!
Finally, with some surprise, I realized that all along he had been talking about the heavenly Father, the LORD God Almighty, Yahweh! But his use of “Dad” and even “Daddy” was so intense and personal that I found it terribly jarring. I could never bring myself to use such a “name” for God, nor do I think he should have done so — and I mean: because of the propriety of the thing, quite apart from the fact that, doctrinally, he was probably miles away from any Scriptural understanding of the Name and character of the God of Israel — the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
On the other hand, maybe somewhere in the quiet recesses of private and per- sonal prayer and meditation, maybe there, if not in public discussion… “Dad” or “Daddy” could be appropriate. Of course, as has been pointed out often, “our Fa- ther” or “our Father in heaven” were the terms that Jesus taught to his disciples.
There may also be an unwarranted presumption in our using the other term that Jesus sometimes used: that is, “My Father”. The Eternal God is only Father to us because He was, first of all, Father to Jesus — and that makes him “Our Father” even if I am addressing him individually and personally — because “our” in such cases can mean ‘the Father of Jesus Christ, and then mine as well, but only in and through Christ’.
Still, Paul has that wonderful reference to the LORD God, or Yahweh, in Romans 8:15:
“But ye have received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Fa- ther.”
From our analysis of the languages, we know here that “Abba” (the transliterated Hebrew, or Aramaic) and “Pater” (the Greek for “Father”) epitomize, respectively, affection and respect. This joint title (the two appear together in Mark 14:36 and Galatians 4:6 as well) expresses a fullness that neither word alone can. There is “Abba”, the love and trust that a little child (i.e., the “teknon” of Romans 8:16,17,21) feels for a father; it is an intimate and tender affection. Then there is the “Pater” of an adult son or daughter (i.e., the “huios” of Romans 8:14,15,19,23,29); this suggests the intelligent apprehension of the status and dignity due to the Head of the family. The combination of Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek words suggests also the mixed character of the Divine family: we are “neither Jew nor Greek… [we] are all one in Christ” (Gal 3:28).
So perhaps it does look like “Abba” may be approximated, today, by “Dad” or “Daddy” — the familiar term of a small child for his father. At least some com- mentators think so. Would the apostle Paul, if he were speaking in English, have referred to Yahweh as “Daddy”? I don’t know. Probably not in any public setting, at least. But perhaps in the privacy of his own “prayer closet”.
Speaking for myself personally, I can appreciate the use of Yahweh occasionally (or even “Jehovah”, the 19th-century equivalent favored by John Thomas). There is a dignity, and a reverence, in the name — maybe most closely ‘translated’ into English as “The Eternal One”, or the New Testament “The One who was, who is,
and who is to come”. However, I do think that dignity and reverence may be lost, or cheapened, if “Yahweh” is used all the time.
On the other hand, He — the Eternal One, the All-powerful, self-existent One, who sustains all creation — allows us, even invites us, to call Him Father, through His Son Jesus Christ. The baby in the manger uttered his first cry, and thereby his Father staked a claim upon our lives. Thereby the Mighty God of all the universe became also “Abba”, the tender Father of a little child; and, through that little child, our Father as well!
The God whose Son was born in that stable, among the lowly farm animals, ceased being (if He ever was!) a God of remote abstractions and technical theories. He is now, for us, a God who loves people, a Father who is not willing that any should perish, who holds back no blessing from His “children”, who searches out and loves even the least worthy and most neglected.
Should I call Him Yahweh, or LORD? Yes, of course. But that is not enough, at least to me. I also need the One who is “Father”.
But to think of Him as the familiar “Father” only, and risk losing sight of the fact, even for a moment, that He is All-Powerful and All-Knowing, and that there is a sure and certain plan that has existed in that Grand Mind untold ages before I ever drew breath… well, I’m not sure even “Father” is all-sufficient as a name or title.
He is, simply, both Yahweh and Father.
Sometimes, in my opinion, it may be more appropriate to refer to Him as the one. Then again, at other times, it may be more appropriate to refer to Him as the other. Sometimes, being human, I may find another person’s selection of name or title as grating. But, being human, and trying to remember my own fallibility, I will try — really hard — not to judge him, or look upon him disparagingly, for the ‘sin’ of being a little ‘different’ than myself.
Maybe he or she will feel the same toward me.