Volume XXXVIII, #36: He To Whom We Pray
“To whom then, will you liken God?” Isaiah 40:18
“God, being infinite, can never be fully comprehended by our minds . . . Our conception of him can never correspond with the reality . . . but can only represent the reality, and stand for God within our souls, till nobler thoughts arise and reveal them- selves as our interpreters” (James Marineau, Prayers in the Congregation and in College).
Marineau’s quote is as right as it is inescapable. Try as we might, the finite can never fully grasp the infinite. Whatever we think about God—the Ultimate Reality— is only a rough approximation, and even our best thoughts will fall ten thousand miles short of Him. But despite our limitations, not only does God want us to think of Him, He tells us how to think of Him. In the very heart of the Sermon on the Mount, in the section known as the Lord’s prayer, He tells us to think of Him as our Father.
Christ doesn’t philosophize or theologize on prayer and God in His preaching; He gets commonplace. He brings heaven close to earth by telling us to approach God as a Father. For those fortunate enough (like myself) to have had the best dad in the world (Matt. 7.7–11), father is a rich term—so rich that God wishes us to think of Him that way. Around seventy times, Christ spoke of God as Father; it seems He wanted to lodge the idea deep within us.
That believers should think of God as a Father is a stunning declaration. The great George MacDonald was born into the gloom of Calvinism, and the concept of God he inherited (mostly, from his grandmother ) was of an awesome, almighty, terrible Being; unsmiling and infinite in His displeasure; angry with sinners; eager to pounce whenever they failed. But MacDonald had a father who was warm, understanding, compassionate, forgiving; always ready with an arm to wrap itself in love around his son’s shoulder. When MacDonald read in his Bible that God is our Father, he slowly started to hope against hope that the true God was not the one portrayed by his grandmother or his church, but one like his own kind father. In the introduction C. S. Lewis penned for MacDonald’s fantasy novel Phantastes, he wrote, “From his own father, he [George] said, he first learned that Fatherhood must be at the core of the universe. He was thus prepared in an unusual way to teach that religion in which the relation of Father and Son is of all relations the most central.”
When we pray, we are not praying to a Calvinistic headmaster, or to an aloof deistic Maker, or to the projection of human desire upon an Olympian peak; we pray to a loving Father. It’s good we remember this. And one of the best ways to do so is by beginning our prayers the way Christ taught. Our Father who art in heaven is a revelation of one of glory’s most precious secrets. Of all relations, it is, indeed, the most central.