There’s a verse in Scripture that frustrates me to this day. And I know it shouldn’t but it does, because when I read it, there are words and pictures in my head that I am told are untrue. I see the words in my Bible and I’m immediately transfixed between what I want this verse to mean and what I’m told this verse means. And honestly, I’m kind of tired of it. That verse is Romans 8:15, which reads: “You did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’”
This verse shouldn’t be frustrating. It should be comforting. It ought to be the softest of respites when I’m anxious and tired. Yet when I look at it, all I can see is the debate over that one word, “Abba.” Some propose that a similar word for “Abba” would be our colloquial title, “Daddy.” Thus, the Christian can cry out to their Dad in heaven and lean on him, with the Spirit’s aid. Others shoot down this notion and incisively, coldly explain how that understanding doesn’t jive with the Word of God, or something like that. Because calling God your Daddy lessens his deity, I guess.
To be honest with you, I’m frustrated by this verse because I want that word to mean “Daddy,” because that’s precisely what I need.
A few nights ago, my little girl Lydia woke up in the middle of the night crying. Natalie and I have been spoiled by Lydia in the fact that she’s normally a wonderful sleeper, often sleeping all through the night with no problems. So her waking up was both abnormal and alarming. We went to her crib and determined she had a fever. As a dad, I felt helpless, because there was nothing I could really do to alleviate the high temperature. As Natalie readied some medicine, though, I grabbed Lydia, held her close to my chest, and she proceeded to melt my heart (as per usual). She tucked her arms underneath her and completely fell onto me. I rocked back and forth, rubbed her back, as she nestled her body closer to mine. Mommy administered the medicine to relieve her fever, and Daddy held her closer.
For me, that’s a pretty good picture of what it means to trust in God. As Lydia rested all her weight on her daddy, so do we put our all in the hands of our Abba, Father, Jehovah. I don’t need a distant God that stays at arms length from me. I need a God that meets me in the midst of all my feverish and filthy frailty. And such is what the good news announces and assures me of. (Gal 4:6)
Those more educated and scholarly than I am are, perhaps, linguistically accurate in their deduction that “Abba” isn’t, necessarily, “Daddy.” But in another sense, I don’t think it matters. Because the gospel tells me of a God who comes close, and holds me even closer. “Jesus invites us to become like a little child,” writes the late Brennan Manning, “to crawl into Abba’s arms and let him love on us.”1 No amount uncleanness is enough for God to turn his nose up at me. Instead, his Word promises me that he’ll sit with me in the dirt and rubble of the ruin of my own making. It tells me that he’ll embrace me in my failures. And that regardless of how dark the night is, he’s always ready to administer his gracious, glorious remedy. The scandal of grace is that it tells me of a true and better Dad who’s not afraid of getting his hands dirty. And I’m ready to fall on him.
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2000), 234.