Over the course of my lifetime some much needed teaching on intimacy with God has been produced. One of the reasons so much has been written on the subject is that many Christians have had bad experiences with their earthly fathers, which has made it difficult for them not to project those images onto God the Father. This causes a natural tendency to envision God in a variety of ways ranging from passively disinterested to unjustly authoritarian to cruelly abusive. Many great contemporary writers have addressed the issue in powerful ways (Frederick Buechner, Brennan Manning and Henri Nouwen are a few of my personal favorites). Even those (like myself) who have or had an incredibly blissful experience in their relationship with their earthly fathers have gleaned much from the rich teachings on the love of the Father, and for that I am grateful.
However, one of the outgrowths of those teachings has spawned an interesting practice. I should qualify what I am about to point out with two caveats. First, I do not believe there is anything wrong with the practice (though I personally find it hard to jive with). Second, this may be a phenomenon that is unique mostly to Pentecostals, Charismatics and other enthusiasts. This is what I am talking about. I have noticed an increasing amount of people who refer to God the Father in a number of informal ways, including things like: Dad, Daddy, Papa, Pop, and Pops.
I am well aware that in Aramaic the word Abba, used three times in Scripture, seems to have been a very intimate, and informal word for father. I am also aware that Jesus addressed the Father with the word (Mark 14:36), Paul stated that we cry, ‘Abba, Father’ by the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15), and that the Holy Spirit cries, ‘Abba, Father’ in our hearts (Gal 4:6). So, if you are one who prays and/or addresses God with a similar term I do not have any problem with it. Furthermore, if it is meaningful for you my assumption is that God loves to hear you say it, and that He would give me a spiritual noogie for saying anything that would hinder you from continuing in your divine address.
However, while I personally struggle to connect with those types of appellations, there is one idea that has captured my imagination for many years. That is, God has friends. I am not referring to spiritual beings that make up a divine counsel in Heaven (though that seemingly exists). Rather, I am referring to human beings “who had natures like ours” (James 5:17), who walked in a sinful world with flesh and blood…just like us. I know that God values all people the same, but there is no denying that there are some among us that He considers to be His close friends, those with whom He reveals Himself and His plans. With those individuals God as proven, as I have stated elsewhere, to be chatty.
In light of my fascination with the idea of God’s human friends, and my desire to be one of them, I have always been taken by a particular verse. It comes in the book of Ezekiel in the context of judgment. This is what it says:
Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were there, their righteousness would save no one but themselves, says the Sovereign Lord. Ezekiel 14:14
A family member mentioned this verse to me recently, and it brought back all of my curiosity, fascination, and desire to understand the nature of, and be counted among, God’s friends. What was it about these three? We know that Abraham was counted as one of God’s friends (James 2:23). We also know that Moses spoke with God “face to face, as one speaks to a friend” (Exodus 33:11). So, again why these three?
In all three cases Scripture points out their fidelity and faithfulness.
Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked faithfully with God. Genesis 6:9
In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil. Job 1:1
But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine. Daniel 1:9
I believe the answer to the question of why these three is actually pretty simple. God considers those that are faithful to be His friends. But we are not just talking any type of faithfulness, when it comes to Noah, Job and Daniel. Any of us that have not outright denied our faith might have grounds to argue that we are faithful. But with these three we see something different. It is a faithfulness that remains when it would have been, for most of us, overwhelmingly tempting to give up. Noah looked like a fool building the ark. Job looked like a fool in the midst of his calamity. Daniel looked like a fool as an exile in the courts of a foreign king. None of their situations looked possible. Everything about each one of their situations seemed to scream, “Give up!”
Yet, none of them wavered in their pursuit of God. My problem is this: I am a very reasonable person. I think there are a lot of good aspects of my reasonability. It keeps me from going off the deep end at times, keeps me in balance. There are times when I find myself all worked up about some thing and my mind is racing and everything feels chaotic and I start wondering if I have gotten everything wrong and I start to wonder if I might lose my mind and then….reason kicks in. I think to myself: You need to calm down. Look at this objectively. You’re making too much of yourself and too little of God, who is much bigger than this problem. Look at this from someone else’s perspective.
Most of the time that sort of reasonability is a life line. It rescues me from the waves in my mind that are tossing me about. However, as I read the stories of Noah, Job, and Daniel and try to honestly imagine myself in their situation it occurs to me that the very point at which my reason tends to kick in would have been the very point that I would have rationalized myself out of my duties. In other words, that is the point when it would have become clear to me that I needed to stop building the boat, quit waiting on God to answer my questions, and nourish my body with royal food and wine.
- When the right thing conflicts with my personal agenda.
- When other people don’t think it’s the right thing.
- When God feels far away.
- When you simply want to do the wrong thing more.
- When it could hurt those you love, or causing someone else pain.
- When it feels like the wrong time.
- When we lose our passion and sense of purpose for the right thing.
- When we are tired and it appears too much work.
- When the other person is doing the wrong thing.
- When no one is watching.
- When it calls your sanity into question.
- When the right thing is unclear.
- When it will leave you unpopular.
- When the cost appears to be too great.
When I look at that list and think about Noah, Daniel and Job I am amazed that they remained faithful. They did not just remain faithful in the minimal sense of the word. They remained completely faithful when confronted with all of the objections that make it hard to do the right thing. If they were reasonable men like me, I suspect they would have never made it to the end of their assignment.
So, today I’m tired of being reasonable. I realize that when we step into our reward there probably won’t be a group of us that gets this commendation: Well done, my reasonable servants! You always did the thing that made the most sense!
I want to hear what was promised in Matthew 25:21: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!
Today I want to be faithful. I want to be one of God’s friends. Don’t you?
When is it hardest to do the right thing? How do we find the balance between faithfulness and reasonability?