“Abba Changes Everything” exclaims the cover story of a past issue of Christianity Today magazine. The article had nothing to do with the 70’s Swedish band—rather, it presented the theological basis for Christian adoption. Abba changes everything. That phrase stuck with me. Isn’t that also true for more than just adoption? That is a reality of the Christian life. Abba changes everything!
The first step in God’s method of transformation into Christ-likeness is growing in a more intimate knowledge of Him. Jesus modeled for us the type of relationship with the Father he desires us to have (see John 17). On the last night of his life, in agony Jesus prayed “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36). Jesus reveals volumes about his Heavenly Father through the use of this one Aramaic word.
Our English Bibles include a transliteration of the work Abba, because there really is no adequate modern equivalent. Even “dad” falls short of capturing the intimacy inferred in this term originally. Before the First Century it was an expression used only by small children of their father—perhaps similar to “mommy” and “daddy.” However, by Jesus’ day this form of address to one’s father was no longer restricted to children, but also used by adult sons and daughters. Abba took on the warm, familiar ring which we may feel in such an expression as “dear father.” Interestingly, in no other Jewish writing do we find references to God in this way. So, as far as we know, Jesus was opening the door to seeing relationship to the Father in a new and more personal way. Though we only have record of three instances of this word in Scripture (Mrk 14, Rom 8, Gal 4), the underlying familiarity of this relationship is implicit in all his teaching about His Father.
For many, seeing God as the creator, sovereign ruler and eternal judge is not difficult. We give hearty ascent to the formulated doctrine of God. But truly knowing him…knowing God as Jesus knew Him—Abba, Father—that can be a challenge. For some, the mere mention of “father” recalls wounds from past abuse, or an aching void from a disengaged father. For still others, father is a foreign concept—able to acknowledge it cognitively, but without experiential basis. This is just one reason that sharing story is such a crucial element in the transformation process in group life. Without story, our reading of Scripture often becomes nothing more than a stale recitation of a distorted systematic theology.
James Bryan Smith points out:*
[God] is completely good. And the fact that God is also all-knowing and all-powerful makes his goodness even better. I can trust God, even if things look bleak. It does not matter that God is all-powerful or all-knowing if he is not all-good. If he isn’t all-good, I will never be able to love and trust him.
What part of a growing, intimate relationship with the Father are your group participants missing because of their past experiences? Begin to explore their story with them—perhaps there are hurts and disappointments never shared because no one ever took the time to listen. Jesus knows the embrace of the Good Father and the healing that comes only through a relationship with Him. Don’t shy away from a person’s story in your pursuit of getting to know Him better, it may well be the beginning of Abba changing everything!
* Smith, James Bryan. The good and beautiful God: falling in love with the God Jesus knows. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Books, 2009.