‘In the Father’s House’

Why do we believe in God? Is it because we submit to His commandment to do so or because we have come to know Him as our heavenly Father? Ask a Muslim “Why do you believe?” and he will generally look surprised. His best answer is: “Because Allah commands me to”. Ask a Jew or a Christian the same question and he will mention the love of the Father. So, who is our Father?

1 - Love of the Father
For both Christians AND Jews the notion of father – and the love of the father - is central. For David says: “You are my Father, my God.” (Ps. 89:26) That is the theme of this article. Who is our heavenly Father? Is He someone to be submitted to? Is He someone who likes to punish and put into exile? That is the question. To many, an attitude of submissiveness has become a creed. This is especially true within the Islam. To stress my point I like to compare it with the attitude within the Islam, a religion that in many ways is antithetical to the JudeoChristian tradition.

2 - Islam means total submission
The word ‘Islam’ means ‘total submission’, derived from the Arab word ‘taslim’. Taslim has been described as being before God’s Power like a lifeless tool, a dead body in the hands of a mortician. This is at the heart of Islamic practice. Ask a Muslim “Why do you believe?” and he will generally look surprised. His best answer is:

-2“Because Allah commands me to”. Islam is therefore mainly centred on the practice of belief, the praxis, of doing right, not of thinking right. But of course, this way of standing in life is not confined to Islam. It corresponds to a general mindset, which we like to address here.

3 - What does the merciful Father want?
What does ‘submission’ look like from the Judeo-Christian perspective? The term makes me think of the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk. 15:11-31). Both sons in the parable had an extremely business-like relationship with their father. And even when the son who left home decides to return, the business-like relationship still continues to exist. For he asks himself how many of his father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare. And: “I will arise and go to my father and will say to him (…) ‘Make me like one of your hired servants’.” He was prepared to ‘submit’ to his father in the interests of his own gain. But the other son, still submissive, was cut from the same cloth. The decisive factor was that the rebellion of the one son and the submission of the other show two sides of the same disdain for the father’s apparent love. For the rebellious son, the father is someone who must disappear below the horizon. He says straight out: “Give me the portion of goods that falls to me”. And he leaves! What does the merciful Father want? A personal relationship in which a mutual sharing of thoughts and manifestations of love appear to be essential. When the son who returns after years of absence groans that he is not worthy to be called his father’s son, that is sufficient for the father. Finally the affective element comes to the surface! That, in fact, was the personal admission that his paternal heart had been waiting for. The son does not even get round to telling his father that he is prepared to be his hireling (and a good thing too). His brother is shocked when he sees the enthusiastic reception given to the faithless one. There is even a feast held in his honour! He fails to perceive that letting himself be loved by his father is the vital and burning question. Does he himself not also hope for his inheritance in the condition of a hireling? For he remarks bitterly: “These many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time”. It should be clear that for both sons the image of their father was that of an authoritarian and demanding man, and thus – sad conclusion – they were both fatherless.

4 – God’s unapproachable Majesty
Within the Islamic faith each person stands alone before God, like a hireling giving an account of his deeds. Which could perhaps explain why this parable in particular appeals so strongly to Muslims. Interesting detail: Mohammed never knew his natural father. A remarkable thing is that the Q’ran speaks exclusively of God’s unapproachable Majesty, but His status as Father is never mentioned. The revelation of God's endless love, hidden in the notion of Father, is not a part of the Muslim universe. God’s Love, if it exists at all, is merely one of the many facets of God’s unknowable nature. They say: His knowability lies beyond the horizon’s horizon.

-35 - Lovingkindness of the Father
Our approach is different. Essential in the Judeo-Christian understanding is that the knowledge of God is constrainted by the limits of one’s increasing awareness of God, who in principle sets no limits in knowing Him. Since we are imperfect people on the way to the Father’s house, the correct attitude for a Jew, and of course any Christian, is to place himself in the shoes of one or the other son and from then on grow towards an ever more perfect relationship with the Father, a relation of lovingkindness that never stops singing of the mercies of the Lord. (Ps. 89:1)

6 - Dare to take the risk!
How different is the attitude of those who believe that they have already achieved that perfect relationship. They are fixed, and run the risk of conforming to the twisted image that they have of the Father, the ever demanding and authoritarian God. Truly, it is not necessary to be a Muslim to remain fixed in the attitude of a hireling. But because of the difference in insight, it will be more difficult for a Muslim to free himself. He starts off with a handicap, mainly because for him God is unknowable and unapproachable, whereas God has shown Himself to the people of Israel in many ways and finally in the Messiah, known in Hebrew as Jeshua (yodh, he, shin, waw, he). Through Him God has become even more approachable, for Jeshua lives in the bosom of our Father. He is the Revelation par excellence, He who of Himself says: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life!” Hubert Luns

[Published in “Profetisch Perspectief”, winter 2005 – No. 49] [Published in “De Brandende Lamp” No. 111 – 3rd quarter 2007] [Published in “Positief”, October 2009 – No. 395]

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