Excerpt from The Universe in 57 Words

We need to recapture a bit of the shock that Jesus’ first students would have experienced when they heard this address. They were likely startled on at least three fronts.


First, Jesus signals an astonishing level of access to God. We know Jesus addressed God as Abba—an Aramaic word that carries perhaps a touch more respect than the English term daddy, but no less tenderness. In teaching us to pray Our Father, Jesus is inviting us into that same sort of intimacy with the God of the universe.

For Jesus’ first listeners — Jews who had been taught all sorts of prohibitions related to addressing God with the proper reverence — the invitation to address him as Father” or Abba” must have been mind-boggling. Something about the way humans are able to relate to God has shifted dramatically, and it has everything to do with Jesus.

Theologian Baxter Kruger tells a story that cracks open a bit of the miracle on offer. Baxter was in his office one Saturday afternoon when his young son and a playmate appeared, decked out in camouflage, evidently embroiled in a game of Army. My son peers around the corner of the door and looks at me,” Kruger remembers, and the next thing I know, he comes flying through the air and jumps on me. We start wrestling and horsing around and we end up on the floor. Then his buddy flies into us and all three of us are just like a wad of laughter.”

In the middle of their play, Kruger felt the Lord prompting him to pay attention. He realized he’d never met his son’s friend before. I rewound the story and thought about what would have happened if this little boy would have walked into my den alone.… Would he fly through the air and engage me in play? … Of course not. That is the last thing that would have happened.”

Within himself,” Kruger continues, that little boy had no freedom to have a relationship with me. We were strangers.… The miracle that happened was that my son’s knowledge of my acceptance and delight, and my son’s freedom for fellowship with me, rubbed off onto that other little boy.… He participated in my son’s life and communion with me.”

When Jesus invites us to call his Father our Father, he is offering us intimate participation in the life of the Trinity. 


In the invocation, Jesus teaches that our connection to God is very personal, yet it is also not private. The address, after all, is not My Father, but Our Father. And all the personal pronouns that follow in the prayer are plural.

From the first word of the prayer forward, Jesus invites us to begin to understand our story within the context of a much bigger story. To pray this prayer is to find our individual lives situated within the body of Christ, within humanity, and within all of creation.


There is a third, rather cosmic dimension of the invocation that is easy to overlook unless we receive Jesus’ teaching in the context of Israel’s backstory. N. T. Wright points out that the first occurrence of the idea of God as Father” comes during the dramatic scene, captured in Exodus 4, when Moses thunders to Pharaoh on the Lord’s behalf: Thus says the Lord: Israel is my firstborn son.… Let my son go that he may worship me” (Exodus 4:22 – 23).

From that iconic confrontation forward, to refer to God as Father” is associated in the Jewish mind with the promise of liberation — freedom from slavery and oppression. By the time King David comes along, God is explaining that eventually there will be a new king, a Messiah, descended from David’s family — and the God-as-Father motif continues. I will be a father to him,” he says of the promised Messiah, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7:14).

When Jesus arrives on the scene, Israel has been waiting for this Davidic Messiah, the hope of Israel, for a very long time. They’ve suffered under the oppression of one regime after another, longing for the day when their Lord, Yahweh, will enact a new exodus and finally set his people free. When Jesus starts referring to God as his Father,” it’s a signal, loud and clear, that he is claiming to be the long-awaited emancipator.

And then, do you see what he does? It would be one thing if he taught his followers to pray to his Father. But instead, he teaches us to pray to our Father — which is to include ourselves in the mission. 

Right here, in the invocation, Jesus is inviting all who will pray this prayer to self-identify as participants in the Father’s great project of setting every captive free and overcoming evil with good in every corner of the universe. To pray to our Father” is to find our life’s ultimate vocation. It is to sign up for the revolution. 

And our participation in this revolution means that we are invited to embody God’s kingdom everywhere we go — at home, at work, at church, shopping for groceries, posting on social media, interacting with our neighbors. We’re invited to live aware and expectant — growing in our capacity to detect all the subtle and overt ways the people around us experience oppression, and learning to pray and act for their liberation.

When I look back on my church upbringing, I’m grateful there was a strong emphasis on the possibility of a personal, intimate relationship with God. But I must confess that I somehow missed the communal, cosmic, revolutionary side of the beautiful coin Jesus offers us.

Spiritual depth and renewal come, as and when they come, as part of the larger package,” observes N. T. Wright. But that package itself is about being delivered from evil; about God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.”

Whom are we addressing? Our Father

Where is his address? In heaven

Where is OUR address? Intimately centered in the life of the Trinity, communally situated within the body of Christ and all of creation, and thrillingly placed on the frontlines of the revolution.

Suggested song: Who You Are

Taken from The Universe in 57 Words by Carolyn Arends. Copyright © 2021 Carolyn Arends. Published by Renovaré and available on renovare.org.

Christ Speaking to the Disciples, from The Story of Christ, print, Georg Pencz (MET, 1986.1180.116) via Wikimedia Commons.

Text First Published May 2021 · Last Featured on Renovare.org April 2022