Just recently, I was lying down to sleep when something popped into my head.
A simple question.
At first, it seemed like just one of those random things that happens when you're trying to get to sleep, but I found it was keeping me awake. I would begin to drift off, only to be jolted back to consciousness by it again and again. And the more I considered it, the more I began to feel that the question might actually be important... Of course, along with that feeling came the familiar anxiety that I would forget all about it by the time I woke up...
(But that's when you do the writer thing - where you try to convince yourself that your idea isn't worth getting out of bed to write down. Because you're lazy.)
In those twilight moments, hovering between 'awake' and 'asleep,' I began to realize that this question was odd. It was a bit tricky. And not tricky in the sense of being difficult, but tricky in the sense that it could reveal a lot about the person answering it. I found that, however I answered this question - and from whatever perspective I assumed - it could yield interesting results, exposing the person answering it.
This is the question:
What do you learn about God the Father from Jesus?
Now, you might be thinking, "Aw man, I was hoping for something juicy. That just sounds like a regular Christian question. Nothing too scandalous or deep about it..." But hear me out: This question is loaded with implication. Much like Jesus' questions to the religious leaders about Caesar's coins and John's baptism, I don't think your average diehard Evangelical can answer this without creating a major challenge to him/herself. Whether you answer "a lot" or "a little" or "nothing" (or whatever else), you may find yourself trapped in exposing an issue with your own sense of God and scripture.
Does that make sense? Do you see why answering in either direction is implicating?
If you answer that you learn nothing at all, or nothing major of the Father from Jesus, then it's clear you can't be taking Jesus himself (or the New Testament) very seriously for what they have to say and offer. To prop up the Old Testament to this degree, you have to admit that you nullify and invalidate the New... On the other hand... If you answer that you learn a lot, or even anything significant about the Father from Jesus? Well then, you are - by default of your own admission - claiming the Old Testament is incomplete in its revelation of the Father.
You see? The question is trickier than it might seem at first glance for a lot of us. For those who claim to follow Jesus as the very image of God, but who also want to maintain that the entirety of scripture is equally revelatory when it comes to God - like some sort of plateau of illumination, rather than a progressively brighter image being painted by a people on a journey... This question presents a problem.
I think it's a good problem to have.
As Evangelical Christianity continues to struggle under the weight of ignoring Jesus and attempting to serve two masters, the idea that all scripture is a perfect representation of God must be held accountable to the idea that Jesus is a perfect representation of God.
In the case of my question, you cannot answer it without revealing something deeper.
However you respond to it, you are making a statement in one of two directions. And all of us are - it's just that some of us recognize it and are at peace with it, having given up trying to pretend we can maintain two contradictory ideas at once. And so we are delighted to embrace that, once again - and just as he did for the religious leaders of old - Jesus is presenting us with himself in a way that forces a real moment of clarity... It's amazing, isn't it? And yet...
It is not really the point of what I'm writing now.
Here's the real point. After that first night, the question really stuck with me. And as I continued to dwell on it a couple days later, something so obvious that it's easy to miss gripped me in a powerful way. See, my question had been, "What do you learn about God the Father from Jesus?" ...But it was suddenly replaced by a much better question:
"Where do you even get the idea that the primary way to relate to God is as a Father?"
And only then did I realize... We got it from Jesus. The very notion of freely referring to God as "Father" is something we only do because of Jesus. I understand if that sounds like a bold claim... But thankfully, it's not a hard one to put to the test. Either I'm inventing this idea, or it's the simple reality of the text which has been hiding in plain sight. Consider:
DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES THE OLD TESTAMENT REFERS TO GOD AS "FATHER?"
Fifteen. Fifteen in the entirety of thirty-nine different books, which together account for three fourths of your bible. And pretty much just to depict Israel the nation in relation to God as its originator. Certainly not to describe a shared intimacy - the family identity of a people built of every nation, tribe and tongue. That's not a major Old Testament thing.
DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY TIMES THE NEW TESTAMENT REFERS TO GOD AS "FATHER?"
One hundred and sixty-five in the gospels alone. And forty in just the letters of Paul. In the New Testament, "Father" is used as the dominant metaphor to dance with in describing this Spirit-God. And not just "Father" in the sense we use it either - like polite and proper 19th century British children... In fact, Jesus' term in the Aramaic language was especially intimate and relational. His term was "Abba" - a word little kids used to speak directly and personally to their fathers. A term which is more accurately translated "daddy." That's our Abba, God.
It turns out that "God the Father" really is much more of a New Testament concept.
Think about that... Have you ever heard anyone mention this in a sermon? (I've never heard it brought up.) Have you ever been in a Christian bookstore, or browsing someone's bookshelf, and come across a book about where we even get this whole "Father God" thing? (I haven't.) See, we've likely heard many sermons and seen many books about "God the Father," and yet... I'm not sure we've ever seen them framed by this realization that it's almost exclusively the New Testament which entrusted us with that perspective in the first place, even though we assume it upon the Old Testament all the time.
It's funny that Christians often celebrate the Old Testament specifically for all of its various titles for God. While many of them are beautiful and meaningful, I still wonder why it never crosses our minds to ask why the New Testament does not continue this same trend! Actually, the writers of the New Testament seem to be under the impression that Jesus has defined God beyond those previous titles, and for them, "Father" suffices just fine now.
To this day, a great many Jews do not refer to God as "father."
And to this day, many do not even write out the full word "God," opting instead to obscure vowels ("G-d") as a way of reverence and respect, in keeping with what the Old Testament/Tanakh scribes did. And that's fine for them. But it's not the way of Jesus... or his followers.
So when Christians talk about "the Father" in what they believe can be seen so clearly of God in the Old Testament, perhaps we should be reminded who empowered us to even use that word confidently. Perhaps we should remember who it was that gave us the perspective of "God the Father" as a sure thing.
You may have heard that we learn about Jesus from the New Testament, and we learn about the Father from the Old Testament...
I think it's more accurate to say we learn about Jesus
- who reveals the Father in full -
from the New Testament.
And with that understanding of God,
we finally have the proper perspective
to approach all that came before
with a consistent ethic of interpretation
provided by the nature of the Son.
Maybe it sounds heretical to say this, but it really shouldn't: The Old Testament is not a perfect image of God as Father, nor is it even an attempt to be. Modern Jews do not hold it to that standard. Ancient Jews wrestled with it and championed parts while challenging others. Jesus himself took part in this tradition.
That we might believe we see the "Father" so perfectly in the Old Testament, when the Old Testament itself is scarcely so bold as to even define God in that way?
It's a truth that has been
hidden in plain sight.
And it's a truth that could change a lot about how we see things. To know that, any time we speak of God as Father, we are speaking to something else as well... We are speaking to the reality that it was only Jesus who was able to convince us of such a thing.
 I am well aware of the existence of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21, and I have no problem with what Paul and Peter have to say in those passages. It is when they are read in the typical Evangelical manner of lording them over Jesus (in a way the writers never intended) that things quickly turn ugly. Paul and Peter both read the Old Testament critically and through the lens of Jesus, "loosing" its greater ideas and "binding" its weaker or more limited ones. That Paul holds all of it to be "useful" does not mean he holds all of it to be perfect. That he holds all of it to be inspired does not mean he holds all of it to be eternally infallible. And that he holds scripture to be God's breath does not mean he considers it an equal authority with God's manifest substance and "Word" in Jesus... We must constantly remind ourselves that Paul knew the Old Testament as well as anyone ever did, and he was still Saul until he met Jesus. He was literally "murdering people for God" and zealous after his "father" Moses... until he met Jesus.
 The single most important and crucial "Father" reference I can find in the entirety of the Old Testament is Isaiah 9:6, which is - fittingly - a prophecy of Jesus...
 Our overall familiarity with scripture and our knowing "the whole story" can sometimes serve to actually obscure a lot of things which would otherwise be obvious to us. We are seldom reminded of the fact that we read scripture with an awareness of it as an entire collection, while nearly all of the people who contributed to it had no concept of it as such. It's like someone who has never seen Star Wars watching the series and already knowing the big reveal of Darth Vader as Luke's Father before even getting to The Empire Strikes Back, so the intensity of this moment (which was felt in a major way by the original audience) is now lost on modern viewers... All that to say, many of the big reveals and twists of the scripture narrative now suffer for the same reason today. Our general awareness has stolen part of their gravity when there is no element of surprise and nothing is ever unexpected. Major progressions and shifts which would otherwise strike us as important, or stand out as intensely significant... do not.