Creator, Sustainer, Father (2)

earthrise-apollo-8In the first part we looked at the doctrine of God embedded in Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 26. The catholic (universal) Christian doctrine of God summarized in the catechism is in antithesis to modernist doctrine(s) of God in process or contingent upon us creatures. God is sovereign, free, spiritual, immense (incomprehensible), simple but he is not remote, distant, or unconcerned with us and our salvation. Indeed, he’s most intimately concerned with and involved with us. He is our Father. This is how our Lord Jesus, God the Son incarnate, taught us to address his Father, who is now, for Christ’s sake, our Father.

This is what we confess:

26. What do you believe when you say: “I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth”?

That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who of nothing made heaven and earth with all that in them is, who likewise upholds and governs the same by His eternal counsel and providence, is for the sake of Christ, His Son, my God and my Father, in whom I so trust, as to have no doubt that He will provide me with all things necessary for body and soul; and further, that whatever evil He sends upon me in this vale of tears, He will turn to my good; for He is able to do it, being almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father.

There are intimations in the Hebrew Scriptures that God is multi-personal and that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. His Fatherhood is more clearly revealed in the New Testament. His sovereign power is intimately related to his Fatherhood. He is good and worthy of our confidence and he we trust him because he powerful and able to hear and answer our prayers.

There is a sense in which God is Father to everyone by virtue of creation. He makes the sun to shine on the just and the unjust (Matt 5) but, in this Q/A, we are confessing the Fatherhood of God in a very specific sense. God the Father is our Father for the sake of his Son Jesus, our Father. We are elect “in Christ.” “In love [the Father] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph 1:5). In Christ “we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will…” (Eph 1:11).

This is why we say “my God” and “my Father.” By his grace (favor) alone (sola gratia), through the gift of new life and faith alone (sola fide) we are united to Christ and, in him, sons (Rom 8:14, 23; Gal 3:26; 4:5–6). He is not just “a Father” or “some Father” but “our Father” and “my Father.” He is as intimate to us as our own earthly fathers. Of course, when we say that, when Scripture speaks of our earthly fathers the assumption is that our fathers love us and spend their lives for us. Generally that’s true but we understand that human relations are broken and sometimes painfully so. Even if our own fathers have sometimes disappointed us, our heavenly Father will never disappoint us. He is always, perfectly good, even if his ways are above our ways.

When we were children we never doubted that our father would provide. That’s just the way it is. Dad is big and strong and he loves us. When he told us to jump, when he promised that he would catch us, even if we were afraid we never doubted his love, his intention, and is strength. Of course he would catch us. If that was true of our earthly father, how much more true is it of our heavenly Father. He never sleeps. He never tires. He always provides. He always sustains us and provides everything we need.

Notice the qualification: necessary, need. We live in an age where it seems almost impossible to tell the difference between needs and wants. Companies tell us repeatedly, seductively that we need the goods and services they offer. No, what we need are clothing, shelter, food, and the basics. We need to love God and our neighbor, to fulfill our vocation in this world. Our heavenly Father will provide these things. Indeed, ordinarily, be provides much than these things. We live in a time of such relative abundance such that we’ve probably lost track of the difference between necessity and luxury. Who, in the northern hemisphere, doesn’t have air conditioning, a refrigerator, a flat-screen television, a mobile phone? If we look back over our lives, if we consider all the meals, all the abundance, the Lord’s provision is truly remarkable. How many times has the Lord met our needs when we weren’t sure when or how it would happen? That is the mercy and kindness of a Father to his sons, in Christ.

Even the hard providences that come in this life are not matters of random chance. They too come from the same heavenly Father who has provided for us so richly. The hard things, death, suffering, grief are, of course, more difficult to accept. Just as we tend to accept God’s gifts to us thoughtlessly, so too we tend to lash out at our Father just as thoughtfully for the hard things. Our natural, short-sighted response is natural for fallen people but it is no less sinful. Our Father does not make mistakes. We are not the measure of all things. God is. He is good and we, by his grace, are being renewed in the image of Christ but he is the standard of goodness. That’s a hard truth but it is a truth. When we are tempted to shake our fists at God our Father it is because we are measuring him by our own standards. He didn’t do what we wanted, what we asked but the truth is that he always does what is right and for good reasons, even if he does not explain himself to us.

“Why?” is not a question to which we will likely have an answer. Of course we can point the general effects of sin. This is a fallen world and with the fall comes sin, suffering, death, and grief. This is not the counsel of Stoicism or indifference. We should pay attention to our own choices (human agency). We don’t know God’s providence ahead of time and we shouldn’t seek to know it (Deut 29:29). That’s not our business. Our choices are our business but even those are comprehended within God’s perfect, wise, good and sovereign decree of providence.

We don’t know why God sends evil upon us but we do know who and what he is to us: our gentle heavenly Father who so loved us sinners that he sent his only and eternally begotten Son, to be born of a woman, to obey in our place, to die as our righteous substitute, to be raised, to ascend, and to be our heavenly high priest before the Father. Whatever grief we have in this life must be measured against that love, against that cross.

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One comment

  1. Dr Clark,

    This was a very timely article and an encouragement to my soul. Thank you for the gentle reminder that God’s providence comes to us from a loving Heavenly Father and we are secure in Christ.

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