THE TONY CROSS COLUMN
Article No. 72
Abba – Father
The amazing thing is not that Christ said ‘Take up thy cross and follow me’, but that the gospel writer, penning his gospel forty years later, reported those words as he did in the gospel. For him the words typified what he considered Christ said or meant by his whole life and teaching. Clearly they are pivotal in the gospel account. Within fifty years of his death, we are being told by Christ’s disciples that the lives of those who follow Christ must be the sort of lives that carry the cross on the way to execution. We are being told that this is the way to follow Christ.
In other words Christ’s whole way of life, seen in retrospect, shone with the spirit of self-sacrifice. So much so that it appeared to be the only way of being a disciple.
Down two thousand years this call – surely originally spoken by our Lord himself – has exemplified what Christianity is all about. There is neither argument nor opportunity for alternative reading. To follow Christ is to live self-sacrificially. Go thou and do likewise.
The image of selfish living or sensuous living is revealed as totally against Christian living. The result over the two thousand years since these words were spoken have seen masses of people living self-sacrificially and their spirit has permeated society and changed the tenor of the world we now live in. Society has become caring. That is one legacy of the life and teaching of Christ.
Another is the establishment for any individual of a direct link to God. We take that so much for granted these days. God is at our beck and call all the time in today’s world. The prevailing mood is that we can access him as easily as we can turn on the computer and access the World Wide Webb.
It was not always so. Right up to the time of Christ men were very chary of accessing God. For one thing God was very unpredictable. He even struck down a man who put his hand out to steady the box called the Ark of the Covenant as it was being transported on a cart to Jerusalem.
He was a God who delivered thunderbolts to people and tribes he didn’t like. He dwelt in a place totally inaccessible to the ordinary man in the street. He obviously demanded all sorts of sacrifices of animals and money. There was elaborate ritual and lengthy purification necessary before anyone could approach him. He was a God to be feared because of his holiness.
But along came this travelling teacher who, with his ragtail disciples, said God was not like that at all. No sacrifices needed! All you had to do was be sincere in your heart. That was never required by the Priests when they accepted your pigeon or bullock for sacrifice! They couldn’t care less about all of that! They just wanted the beast for slaughter and sacrifice (and subsequent human consumption!) The legacy of Christ is that we can, and do, say Abba – Father to God. That has totally changed society – indeed, the world. Think of it – all the old religions such as the Aztec religion, the Egyptian religion or the Viking religion – all relegated to the dustbin of history because they are clearly obsolete in the face of Abba – Father.
Down two thousand years we have struggled with one of the simplest of consequences of Abba-father. What is that? If God is our Father, then we are all brothers!
What a statement! At one stroke you condemn slavery, extortion, war and bloodshed, anger and hatred, and a thousand attitudes and practices. We have only recently discovered that ‘ our brother’ also includes ‘our sister’! By accepting Abba – Father we move instead into countless new initiatives to extend brother/sisterhood into fresh areas.
Think of it - hospitals, care for the elderly and dying, care homes for the insane, education for the illiterate, work so that people may earn their own bread, social services to help the disadvantaged. Behind all of these is the simple imperative of brotherhood under a loving Father.
‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ – initially intended to stop over zealous revenge – has now become obsolete. If you believe the brotherhood of all people then to attempt revenge becomes suspect and, eventually, obsolete. To strike back when hurt is a very basic human response – but it is now seen as not appropriate in a family. A rule of law and order is perfectly acceptable – the policing function on a national and international scale – but taking revenge is revealed as outdated and counter-productive because it does not spring from brotherhood and it only increases hate.
Of course Heads of State and Politicians often pander to the lowest instincts of their voting public and opt for revenge attacks. Or perhaps, even worse, a pre-emptive strike which is a tyype of revenge before any hurt has been done. There have been recent examples! But all that is to do with holding onto power. Maintaining your number one position.
But Abba – Father will prevail eventually, even for the most selfish of leaders. Eventually nations will see that an international Policing function – working always with the assent and agreement of all members states – is the appropriate way forward – otherwise we are back to the law of the jungle where might is right.
Individually we can each work the consequences of Abba – Father into our own lives. We can start to shed our desire to excel at the expense of others. Or to acquiesce in the deprivation of others. ‘There is enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed’ is an appropriate guide here. And maybe we are all going to have to reconsider whether some of the things in our ordinary day-to-day lives are working to the deprivation of others in the world.
It is now considered by experts that the extraordinary freak weather, which has been experienced by all the continents of the world recently, is the result of global warming. Thousands die from consequent flood, storms, droughts and similar events and millions are disadvantaged. We are all going to have to reconsider our lives from the point of view of the harm our manner of living may incur for people living on different continents.
It is said that the beat of the wings of a butterfly in the Amazon Basin can eventually cause storm winds in New York. We are all inter-connected and maybe we are all going to need to tread more carefully for our brother’s sake in future.
Abba-Father also profoundly affects our overall view of life. To the person without any faith in an after-life, death is the end of all things and therefore something to be feared – or at least put off as long as possible! The end of personality – of ‘me’ – is a frightening thought. It opens up the abyss of nothingness. But if we are children of the Abba – Father God, then we can walk through life at a steady pace, confident that our ultimate wellbeing is assured by our heavenly Father. We can accept calmly all that happens – even disasters such as terminal illness or betrayal by loved ones. All that happens comes to us after passing through the grid of our Father’s careful oversight. We can leave all safely in his hands.
Whatever happens in my life I can safely leave it to my Father God to lead me through it and out the other side. I can trust him for the future - both here and hereafter.
To have such a trust profoundly changes how we live our lives. Countless men and women have travelled joyfully to foreign lands and there died in just a few months or years in order to pass on the good news of this loving Father. We no longer need to jostle for money or power, nor have any sense of desperation when things go badly wrong. My Father God loves me and cares for me – I must mirror his love and reflect it to those around me.
So we come back to the beginning! I must live the life of the cross. It is the requirement that follows accepting that God is my Father. Each of us does it to the best of our ability, and mostly we fail! It is natural – we are human. Thank God for a loving Father – a God who understands and who forgives. Even more importantly, he gives us the strength to get to our feet and restart our journey towards him.