When my daughter was little, one of her favorite bathtub toys was a set of hippos that floated in brightly colored plastic rings. They were a great tool for talking about colors and counting, and the plastic rings served as life preservers, crowns, and bracelets. It was a great toy–until the day she decided to slip one of those plastic rings over her foot. The ring went on, but it wouldn’t come off. She couldn’t get it off. I couldn’t get it off. And suddenly, I wasn’t enough anymore. Her lower lip trembled and she cried out for her daddy. If our relationship with our fathers is as it should be, that’s the way it works. When they’re scared, hurt, or alone, children want their daddies. And how wonderful it is that we get to call God “Daddy.” God is our perfect Father who loves us intimately and never lets us down.
The Bible often calls God Father. But there are three places in the New Testament where the Bible uses a different word–Abba. Abba was the Aramaic word for Father. Used by children for their father and disciples for their teacher, Abba implied intimacy. It is not a flippant term, but it is a word used to describe a father-child relationship that is both deeply personal and deeply respectful.
Mark 14:36 is the only place in the gospels where Jesus uses the word Abba. On the night before he was crucified, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. The disciples he chose to accompany him fell asleep. “Deeply distressed” and “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” Jesus was utterly alone. Knowing fully what was to come, Jesus cried out to God: “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).
At his point of deepest sorrow and grief, Jesus found comfort in his intimate relationship with the Father. Abba. Alone, afraid, and dreading the suffering that was to come, Jesus cried out to his Abba–both honestly expressing his grief and fully submitting himself to his Father’s plan. When our children are frightened, their daddy is the one they want. As the cross loomed before him, Jesus called out to his Abba–his daddy.
We also get to call God Daddy. The New Testament uses Abba to explain the relationship we have with God by the power of the Spirit:
The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15)
Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” (Galatians 4:6)
Through his death and resurrection, Jesus made it possible for us to share in his relationship with the Father. We are fully adopted and accepted as God’s children–co-heirs with Christ. And as such, the Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to cry out Abba, Father. God doesn’t hold us at arm’s length. Calling God Abba is an expression of the intimate personal relationship we now enjoy with God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
And our Abba is with us when we need him most. When we are overwhelmed with our grief and sorrow; when the pain seems too much to bear; when fear cripples us–those are the moments we most need to cry out to our Abba. Like a father who perfectly loves his children, God is attuned to our cry. He is there. We can call God “Daddy.”
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