Gen. 17:1; I Jn. 3:1 (Mt. 6:25 - 34)
Some third and fourth-graders at Wheaton Christian Grammar School in Wheaton, Illinois, were asked to complete the following sentence: “By faith, I know that God is…” This is how some of the young students finished that sentence.
A boy named Paul wrote: “By faith, I know that God is caring, because he made the blind man see, and he made me catch a very fast line drive that could have hurt me. He probably sent an angel down.”
A girl named Amanda said: “By faith, I know that God is forgiving, because he forgave in the Bible, and he forgave me when I went in the road on my bike without one of my parents.”
A boy named Brandon stated: “By faith, I know that God is providingful, (there’s a creative word) because he dropped manna for Moses and the people, and he gave my dad a job.”
And young Jeremy wrote: “By faith, I know that God is merciful, because my brother has been nice to me for a year.”
How would you answer that question: "By faith, I know that God is ..." That is a question that the church of the first several centuries had to answer. As the new church spread throughout the Roman Empire and beyond, for the most part made up of non-Jewish people who came out of a variety of pagan religions and belief systems, it was essential that there be a common understanding of the Christian faith. Who is the true God? Who is Jesus Christ and exactly what did God accomplish through His life and ministry? Just what is it that we believe as followers of Jesus?
The Apostles’ Creed, which we began to examine last week, was one way the church sought to clarify the essentials of Christian belief. And those involved in the development of the Creed placed at its beginning the phrase, “I believe in God, the Father almighty.” Today we will consider what it means that God is “the Father almighty.”
But first let’s briefly review what we looked at last week. Then we reflected on the first two words of the Creed, “I believe.” And we saw that there are four different levels of belief, each one building upon those before it. The first level is assent, which is simply acknowledging the truth or existence of something. As it relates to God, a person may simply believe there is a God, but have no interest in or commitment to this God. But simply believing there is a God is the starting point; before you can say anything about God you must believe He exists.
Biblical belief moves beyond assent to trust in this God, especially in the saving work of Jesus on the cross, then commitment to God, and finally obedience to God. They are all part of biblical faith, what it means to believe. The rest of the creed spells out why we can trust in this God, commit ourselves to this God, and obey this God – even though that may at times be costly. For the creed describes who this God is and what He has done. A God such as this is worthy of our trust, commitment and obedience.
The creed doesn’t really concern itself with the first level of belief – assent – simply believing there is a God. To some, believing in God is a ridiculous assumption. But both the one who believes in God and the one who believes there is no God exercise faith. The existence of God cannot be proved in a scientific way, but neither can it be proved that God does not exist. Faith is required either way. “I believe there is no God” is as much a statement of faith as “I believe there is a God.”
There is strong evidence that points to the existence of God; we see it all around us, but God is Spirit. He exists in a different form of reality than we do or what we can even comprehend. Science has discovered incredible things, but it can test, measure, and prove only things that are part of this material world; it has no instruments to detect spiritual reality. And so God’s existence cannot be proven, and neither the creed nor Scripture tries to prove God’s existence. That essentially is taken for granted. So it takes faith to believe, but it is faith based on solid evidence.
So who is this God we believe in? Well, in the first place He is the “Father almighty.” That’s an interesting phrase because it is never found in Scripture. The Bible affirms both. That God is almighty is clear simply from the fact that God is the Creator and created the world out of nothing. When God appeared to Abraham in Gen. 17:1 He said, “I am God Almighty.”
And Scripture declares that God is our Father a number of times. One is when Jesus taught us to pray by saying: “Our Father, who art in heaven…” So while Scripture never refers to God as “the Father almighty,” both these attributes of God are affirmed in different parts of Scripture, and so the writers of the Creed linked these two together. God is the Father almighty.
First let me say a couple things that does not mean. To say that God is Father does not mean God is male. God is Spirit, and thus is without gender, yet at the same time God’s being encompasses the qualities of both masculinity and femininity which God has passed on to the human race. For instance, in the creation account, Gen. 1:27 states: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
When God created us in His image, He created us as male and female. There is something of both those attributes within God’s being. So God is not male, although our language lacks an adequate way of describing the nature of God. Using a personal manner of referring to God, such as Father, conveys some of the essential truth about God that would be lost if we used only impersonal descriptions, such as Creator, Deliverer, or Sustainer. God is those things, but He is also a personal God, and so God has chosen to reveal Himself to us as our Father. Knowing God as our Creator is very affirming, but that doesn’t necessarily draw us into relationship with God. But knowing that God is our Heavenly Father invites us into a relationship, for “father” is a relational term. By that God invites us even into a loving relationship with God. What a warm and endearing way God presents Himself to us.
Second, in referring to God as our Father we must not let our human definition of father or our personal experience with our earthly father distort what it means that God is our Heavenly Father. Tragically, some have the unfortunate experience of having fathers who failed them in significant, perhaps even painful ways.
If that is true for you, you may have to picture God as your Heavenly Father by way of contrast. Yes, your earthly father failed to live up to his calling as a father and even contradicted that calling. But praise God, your Heavenly Father is so much different. He perfectly demonstrates the qualities of true fatherhood – qualities such as love, compassion, encouragement, wise guidance, and true strength. God in His character and in His relationship with us defines what true fatherhood is.
So then, what does it mean that God is Father? First and foremost, this means that God is the “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (I Pet. 1:3).” God is the One who sent His Son into the world to be our Savior. So we’re not talking about some philosophical idea of God, or some abstract concept of the Divine who has some characteristics similar to fatherhood. No, we’re talking about the God who revealed Himself in Scripture and supremely in Jesus Christ. He is the living God, a personal God, and a very specific God – the One who has made Himself known to those He created by coming to us in Jesus Christ, God the Son.
Referring to God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ brings up the matter of the Trinity. In a way we cannot understand, God exists eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are not three Gods, but one God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the three distinct Persons that comprise a unity, a oneness of being.
Furthermore, God the Father did not create God the Son, nor did He exist before God the Son. Again, there are no human terms that can completely and accurately describe the nature of God. But these are terms that help describe the personal nature of God. God has existed eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which tells us that there is communion, fellowship, and relationship within God. The fact that we have been created in God’s image tells us that we are social beings created for communion, fellowship, and relationship – both with others and with God. Why is it that we need and value relationships with others? It’s because we have been created in the image of the triune God who eternally lives in loving relationship with Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
But God is not only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; He is also our Father. It is the eternal Son of God alone who is Son of God by right. But we are His sons and daughters by grace. By His grace God has adopted us as His children and gives us the right to know Him as our Father.
What does this mean for us? Well, in the first place, as our Father, God is the source of our existence. We owe our very life to Him in a more profound way than we owe our life to our own father and mother. We would not be if not for God. That alone should lead us to praise God.
This also affirms our value. We are not here by accident. We are not the result of billions of years of atoms and molecules randomly smashing into each other. Rather we were formed in our mother’s womb by the working of our Heavenly Father. As David affirmed in Ps. 139:13: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.”
God our Father created each of us – individually and for a specific reason. That God is our Father, and thus the source of our existence, gives meaning, value, and purpose to our lives. We are not an accident. We are not incidental to creation. God our Father felt that creation would not be complete if you were not a part of it, and so He created you! Isn’t that an incredible thought! Doesn’t that make you want to give thanks and praise to God?
Not only do we owe our existence to God our Father but as children of our Heavenly Father we are entitled to certain rights and privileges. We can be assured of God’s watch care, protection, and provision even as a loving earthly father watches over his children. Jesus told us (Mt. 6:25-33):
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by working can add a single hour to his life?
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
We not only believe in God, but we know Him as our Heavenly Father who loves us and cares for us and so will provide for our needs.
We can also depend on God’s guidance and direction, even as an earthly father will seek to steer his children in the direction they should go. We don’t have to try to figure out life on our own. We are not left to ourselves to try to sort out all the confusing options before us. What should I do with my life? What should I do in this situation? How can I live a meaningful life? God not only has a good purpose for our lives, He leads and guides us so that we come to experience the fullness of that good purpose.
The psalmist wrote in Ps. 73:24, “You guide me with your counsel.” What better source of guidance could there be than the wise counsel of the all-knowing God? Think of some of the places people turn to for guidance today – astrology, as if the stars and planets had control of your future. Tarot cards, as if some pictures on pieces of cardboard held the key to your future. People are desperate for guidance, and as children of the Heavenly Father we are assured of guidance from the only One who can give us sure and wise direction – the all-knowing God. And so Ps. 48:14 states “For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end.” We are assured of God’s guidance for our lives to the very end of our lives, for God is our loving Heavenly Father.
Along with these things, we can be sure that God will help us grow and develop into the people He created us to be. One thing this means is that when our lives get off course, we can expect the discipline and correction of our Heavenly Father, which we should welcome.
Perhaps this doesn’t sound so appealing to us, but any loving parent disciplines their children when their children are in error, are disobedient, or are pursuing a destructive path. As parents we do this so our children can learn, so they can do what is right and good, and so they will grow into people of upright character. And so because He loves us, God disciplines us when our lives veer off course. He does so to bring us back to Himself and to His good purpose for us. Heb. 12:5-11 reminds us of this.
My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves. Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Our Heavenly Father desires what is truly good for us, and no one knows better what that is than God. When our lives deviate from that good, from that wholesome path, God in some way disciplines us to bring us back. He does so in order that we may share in His holiness and righteousness. God’s discipline is a transforming power in our lives to help us become what we could never become on our own.
Most of all, because God is our Heavenly Father, we can count on His never-failing love, for the One who by His very nature is love will never cease to love His children. Ps. 103:13 assures us, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.” And I Jn. 3:1 proclaims: “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!” There is no greater title we can have than that of being called the children of God. And we are God’s children because as our Heavenly Father, God has lavished His love on us. Every day we can live with the confidence that God loves us.
Why did God create us with a specific purpose in mind? Why does God provide for our needs? Why does God guide us in the paths we should take? Why does God discipline us when that is what we need? Because He loves us. It’s just that simple. No earthly father could ever love us like our Heavenly Father loves us.
And we can be assured that God will do these things for us – He will provide for us, counsel us, care for us and transform us because He is “the Father Almighty.” Nothing and no one can prevent Him from doing so, for no power can rival His power.
To say that God is almighty or all-powerful does not mean God can or would do anything. God’s power does not enable Him to do what is a logical contradiction, such as make a four-sided triangle. God doesn’t use His power to attempt what is absurd, such as to try to make a rock so heavy He could not lift it. Nor does God’s power mean He could do what is cruel and inconsistent with His nature, such as to vaporize the entire universe. That’s not what Scripture means it speaks of the unlimited power of God.
Rather it means that God is able to perfectly accomplish all that He wills to do, and all that He wills to do is consistent with His love, mercy, holiness, righteousness, and faithfulness. Nothing is outside the scope of God’s ultimate control, and no person or power can keep God from bringing His good will to pass. God has all the power necessary to perfectly bring about His perfect will.
This does, of course, raise a question. If God is our loving Heavenly Father, and if God is almighty in His power, why do bad things happen? Why are there tsunamis that claim thousands of lives? Why does God allow tornadoes and hurricanes to destroy homes and livelihoods? Why doesn’t God step in and save the dying baby? Why do bad things happen? Of course, probably for many of us, this is not just a hypothetical or theological question but a personal question. We have asked this question ourselves when painful or unfair circumstances attacked us.
Some suggest that the reason God doesn’t intervene is that He either is not loving, and thus has no desire to restrain such evil and harm. Or God is not almighty, and thus while He may desire to prevent such events and the suffering they bring, He is not able to stop them. If we believe that God is the Father almighty, that God is loving and powerful, how do we respond to this?
Of course, when we ask these “why” questions – why is the world filled with so much pain, why does God allow the innocent to suffer, and so on – as the Swiss theologian Emil Brunner pointed out, what we are really saying is: “Why does God not rule the world just as I think it should be? Why did God not ask me how to run the world so it would have turned out so much better, how to run things according to my superior intelligence? As if God had to account to us, as if we were in a position to say how the world ought to be ruled so that it would turn out well with all!”
That’s a keen insight by Brunner. We do have to admit that when we complain to God about things that happen what we are really saying is, “I know a better way. I could do a better job than You.” So while we may ask those questions out of legitimate anger or grief, asking them also reveals our pride. We think we know better; it should be like this.
We do not always understand God’s wisdom or His ways, for as God says in Is. 55:8: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” But while we may not always understand, we should at least acknowledge our limited understanding, and trust that God’s wisdom and His ways are far superior to ours. And that God’s love is sure, and His unlimited power is guided by His perfect wisdom.
Nevertheless, is there any kind of answer to the question of suffering – especially undeserved and perhaps random suffering? Well, there is no answer that will completely satisfy us, that will clear up all our wondering and confusion. We have to accept the fact that there is a mystery to God and His ways, and neither Scripture nor the Apostles’ Creed seeks to unravel that mystery.
But we can say this. God is not oblivious to or unconcerned about the suffering of His children. In fact, God knows from experience, at a far deeper level than any of us, what it is to suffer both horrifically and unjustly. When Jesus died on the cross it was obviously an unbelievably cruel and painful death. And it was undeserved.
If ever it could be said about someone, “He didn’t deserve that,” it was when Jesus was nailed to the cross. He did nothing wrong. He had no sin. But He willingly bore our sin when He allowed Himself to be crucified. We can’t say why God allows suffering and pain in this world, but we do know that God freely chose to enter into all that suffering and pain when He came to this world and died for this world in Jesus Christ.
So what does the cross have to do with God being the Father almighty? Well, at the cross we see the fullness of the Father’s love for us. For nothing proves the true measure of love as its willingness to suffer for the one it loves. Thus, at the cross we see the depth of God’s love, for as Jesus said in Jn. 15:13: “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” God is our Heavenly Father who loves us with an immeasurable love.
And in raising Jesus from the dead we see the almighty power of God. For what power can be compared to raising someone from the dead? Both the love and power of God demonstrated through the death and resurrection of Jesus reveal to us God’s willingness and ability to do what is for our ultimate good. And while that doesn’t answer all our questions about suffering, it does enable us to trust this loving and powerful God in the midst of our questions and even times of suffering. For God has proven His Fatherly love and demonstrated His almighty power in the most compelling and costly way possible. And He did it for our benefit.
If God were only our Father, we would know He desires good for us, but He would lack the power to bring about that good. If God were only almighty, He could do whatever He wanted. But we would have to fear that God might act in ways that would be harmful to us or that He would not use His power for our benefit. But because God is the Father Almighty, we can be confident that God’s almighty power, working through His perfect love, will result in God’s good purposes for our lives coming to pass.
God is the Father almighty, which means we can trust God.