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he Universal Fatherhood of God

by Aaron Sat Jan 29, 2011 9:28 am

The idea that God relates to all mankind as a good father does his own children is, I believe,
irreconcilable with the traditional view that some part of the human race will, either by God's
permission or positive decree, suffer eternal conscious torment. This may be one reason why the
doctrine of the universal Fatherhood of God has failed to find acceptance among those who consider
the doctrine of ECT essential to orthodoxy. If the doctrine of God's universal Fatherhood is true, it
would mean the doctrine of ECT must be false. But I submit that a fundamental idea implicit in all that
Christ taught - whether by word or by action - was that mankind's relationship to God is that of a child
to a parent, and that our relationship to our neighbor is that of a child to their sibling.
When speaking of God as the Father of men, Christ addressed both his disciples and the crowds,
indiscriminately (Matt. 5:1-2; 23:1, 9). From this it may be inferred that Christ understood God to be
the Father of all to whom he spoke, and, therefore, the Father of all people in some sense. Christ also
taught that God is the Father of those who may or may not be called his "sons" (Matt 5:43-45); that he
is the Father of those who may be guilty of acting hypocritically (Matt 6:1); that he is the Father of
those from whom divine forgiveness may be withheld (Matt 6:14-15; Mark 11:25); and that he is the
Father of those who are said to be "evil" (Matt 7:11). Such language used by Christ seems inconsistent
with the view that God's fatherhood is limited to only a part of mankind. The well-known parable of
the "prodigal son" (Luke 15:11-32) beautifully illustrates Christ's views concerning the fatherhood of
God. In this parable, both brothers are sons of their father by nature and birth, and the kindred bond
of the father to his sons could not be annulled by their disobedience. Even in his state of relational
estrangement and immorality, the younger son remained the object of his father's love, and when the
son "came to himself" and returned to his father, he was welcomed back by his father with open arms
and tears. Similarly, even after the older son is revealed to have been just as estranged from the
Father and "lost" as the younger son was (as his heart was full of jealously, hatred and selfrighteousness), Jesus has the father re-affirming the filial bond that remained unbroken between them
(vv. 31-32).
Further evidence that Christ understood the fatherhood of God in a universal sense may be found in the
teaching of the apostle Paul, who (it may be reasonably expected) would not have taught anything that
contradicted the teaching of his Lord. After quoting the Stoic philosopher Aratus, Paul refers to himself
and the Athenian pagans to whom he spoke as God's "offspring" (Acts 17:28-29). To the Ephesians Paul
spoke of God as being the "God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Eph 4:6). It
may be objected that Paul could only have had believers in view here, since he refers to the Father as
being "through all and in all." But in the verses from Acts previously referred to it would appear that
Paul agreed with the Cretan philosopher Epimenides, who wrote, "For in him we live and move and

have our being." There is nowhere we can go where God is not (Psalm 139:7-10; Jer 23:23-24). He is
everywhere present by his Spirit (i.e., his operative power and presence), permeating even our very
There is, however, a sense in which God is not the Father of all people, and all people are not his
children. We have already noted how Christ exhorted his disciples to become sons of one who
already was their Father (Matt 5:43-45). But in what sense can it be said that God is not one's Father,
and a person not his son? Answer: this can only be the case when we are not like him in character, as
manifested in our thoughts and actions. Jesus taught that God loves both the good and the evil, the
just and the unjust (Matt 5:43-47). It is in view of this divine perfection that we are exhorted to do the
same so that we may be like him (v. 48). It is only in doing so that we may thereby enjoy the privilege
of being called his children in the sense of which Christ is speaking here. Similarly, John taught that it
is those who receive Christ and believe on his name (which implies believing that he will accomplish
the redemptive purpose for which he was sent by God, as well as embracing and practically applying
his teachings) whom God gives "the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). To become a child of
God in this sense is to be regenerated, or "born again." But it must be emphasized that even before a
person becomes a child of God in this sense (i.e., by faith in Christ), God was already their heavenly
Father. What Christ and John meant by our being "born again" is illustrated by Paul's "adoption" imagery.
For Paul, adoption into God's family is simply the raising of those who already are God's children (i.e.,
by virtue of having been made in his image) to the true position of a son or daughter, with all of its
blessings and privileges (Gal 4:1-7).
In John 8:37-45, Jesus declares that, in some sense, God was not the father of the unbelieving Jews.
What does Christ mean here? We know that Christ cannot mean that God was not their father in any
sense whatsoever, for he would then be contradicting not only his own teaching, but also the prophet
Malachi, who rhetorically asked his Jewish brethren, "Have we not all one Father? Has not one God
created us?" (Mal 2:10) Malachi's words were addressed to those in Israel who were, in spirit, no
different from the unbelieving Jews of Christ's day. They certainly had no less of a need to turn to God
in repentance. But in spite of their waywardness and guilt before God, there was still a sense in which
God remained their "Father." And what sense was this? Answer: God had established Israel as a nation
and bestowed upon the Jewish people their identity as a set-apart people, and was, in this sense, the
common "Father" of the Israelites in a peculiar sense in which he was not the "Father" of the heathen
(cf. Deut 32:6; Isa 63:7-19; 64:8; Hos 11:1). Is Christ then denying this fact on which the prophet
Malachi was placing a special emphasis? No; the sense in which Christ implied that God was not the
father of the unbelieving Jews must therefore be different than the sense of which Malachi speaks. It
must also be different than the sense in which Christ spoke during his Sermon on the Mount and
elsewhere. What then does Christ mean?

It is evident from the context that our Lord is speaking of fatherhood and sonship in the sense of
likeness in character and purpose, as manifested in one's intentions and actions. Jesus was simply
stating that the unbelieving Jews could not claim God as their father in the sense of resembling him in
character or purpose. They were instead "children of the devil (or slanderer)" in the sense that they
shared the deceptive and murderous character of the "serpent" that tempted Eve in the Garden of
Eden. In no other sense could the unbelieving Jews be said to be children of the devil, and in no other
sense could it be said that God was not their father, and they not his children. Just as the devil was
said by Christ to have been "a murderer from the beginning," so the unbelieving Jews sought to kill
Jesus (v. 37, 40). And just as the devil was said by Christ to be "a liar, and the father of lies" so the
unbelieving Jews spoke lies about Christ and rejected the truth he spoke (vv. 45-46). Thus, as they
were in their ethical resemblance the children of the devil, so they could not, in this respect, claim
God as their Father, for there was no likeness in character between them. Verse 39 explains the
meaning: "If you were Abraham's children, you would be doing what Abraham did." This corresponds to
v. 42: "If God were your Father, you would love me." Of course they were Abraham's children by nature
or descent, as Christ himself acknowledged later (v. 56). But they were not, however, Abraham's
children in an ethical sense; they did not in any way resemble Abraham in their character and moral
actions. While Abraham was distinguished for his faith and righteousness, the Jews to whom Christ
spoke in John 8 were distinguished for their unbelief and unrighteousness.
Thus, just as Abraham was their father in a natural sense but not in a moral or spiritual sense, so were
they God's children by nature or by virtue of having been created in his image, but not by faith and
obedience. In this chapter, Christ just as much denies the fatherhood of Abraham as he does the
fatherhood of God. The fact is that the primal parental relation that exists by nature - both of God and
of Abraham - existsindependently of the moral or spiritual relation. The one is a resemblance in
character, while the other is the necessity of creation and birth/ancestry, and, as such, can be neither
changed nor abolished. A child may be very disobedient and rebellious, but that does not annul his
natural, kindred relationship to his parent. The fact that he is a child is in the very nature of things.
This may be illustrated by the parable of the prodigal son. In view of the selfishness, wanton behavior
and indifference toward his father displayed at the beginning of the parable, the younger son could be
said to have been (in some sense at least) "a child of the devil" or "a child of wrath." As long as he
continued in disobedience there was a sense in which he could not be called his father's child, for he
did not resemble his father in character. But there still remained a kindred bond between them that
could not be broken by his selfish actions. The father still loved him, and longed for his estranged son
to return and be reinstated as his son. When he returned to his father, it was as if the younger son who was formerly "dead" and "lost" - had been "born again." When the father called for his servants to
put the "best robe" on his son, to put a ring on his hand, and to prepare a feast for him, the father was
essentially "adopting" his son back into the family.

"Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in
the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry:
'Mine!'" Abraham Kuyper


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