One of the primary roles of every father is to provide life. Not just in biological terms, mind you, but to provide the means for understanding life in all its sheer vastness and brute complexity. In nearly every human culture, it is the role of the father to provide instruction and direction for his family, to hold them to common purpose, and to be their source of common strength.
So if God describes Himself as “Father,” then it stands to reason that He would have very much this same role.
CREATOR OF ALL
There was a point in Paul’s career when he found himself standing in the city of Athens. The city had reached its heyday long before Paul’s arrival; nevertheless it maintained a reputation for both public spirituality and the intellectually elite.
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:22-25)
Paul stands before a council of learned men and proclaims several fundamental truths about God. Now granted, the text here does not specify that Paul refers to God the Father, but if we step back and look at the scope of Scripture we see that Paul’s description fits the character of the Father primarily.
Paul describes God primarily as creator. Every member of the Trinity is involved in creation in some way, but we tend to associate the Father with creation more closely than anyone else. Members of the ancient church went as far as labeling the Father as the fons divitatis, the fountain from whom all things proceed—which helps understand why the Father is given pride of place even among the Trinity.
To the church in Corinth, Paul writes:
6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:6)
So the Father’s role is first and foremost seen in creation.
CREATOR OF ISRAEL
This creative work is more than the creation of people in general; it also applies to the formation of Israel in particular:
Do you thus repay the Lord,
you foolish and senseless people?
Is not he your father, who created you,
who made you and established you? (Deuteronomy 32:6)
Here the “you” refers specifically to the Israelites. God was the “Father” of the nation; He created this people through Abraham and others to be a people after Himself. Similar language appears in the book of Isaiah:
But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand. (Isaiah 64:8)
For Israel, recognizing God as creator demanded a yieldedness to His will and character.
SUSTAINER OF LIFE
Paul, before the council in Athens, makes similar claims about all people. Because God is the source of life, He is likewise the sustainer of life:
26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ (Acts 17:26-28)
Paul knows his audience. He basically quotes from their Top-40 stations and applies the poetry and lyrics of their culture to the gospel.
Paul is emphasizing that only through God can mankind find his or her destiny. And in so doing, he affirms that people are indeed hungry for the knowledge of God.
See, when we think about life, we often get the order backwards. Science tells us that we begin with created matter, and through complex processes eventually life arises. But the gospel tells us this is altogether backward. Because “the Father has life in Himself” (John 5:26), all of creation proceeds from Him.
Too often we go searching for life through all the wrong things. Smart phones, social media, career, what have you. And the more our identities get spread out across electronic networks, the more our souls feel stretched thin.
But if God is the source of life, if my meaning and purpose are found in Him, then I needn’t go looking for meaning and purpose elsewhere. To acknowledge God as Father means we can rest from the exhaustive business of being our own masters, the captains of our own misguided souls. Instead we can trust our Father, who leads us and shepherds us through His good, pleasing, and perfect will.