Today we have another question from our Confirmation students, who have been studying Luther’s Small Catechism, and particularly the Lord’s Prayer.
The question: “In the prayer, we say, ‘Our Father in heaven’, but we also say God is with us all the time, everywhere. Which is it?”
The answer: Well, kind of both!
“Our Father in heaven” has two parts to it. The “in heaven” part reminds us that God is not us. We are not talking to any dad we see here on earth. Earthly dads are great people to talk to, but they’re not God. We’re not talking to a boss, a government, our ourselves in this prayer either. We’re not praying to anyone or anything that we can control, or even completely understand. God is different than all of that!
This is important because of our human tendency to make God into an extension of ourselves. We want God to be whatever WE want God to be. Since God seldom shows up in person to correct that perception, we slip into it very easily. “God agrees with me, I’m sure! God is on my side of the argument! I don’t believe in any God who would think differently than I do about this issue!” When we say these things, we’re not talking to or about God as much as we’re talking about ourselves. There’s no room in those phrases for a God who is different than we are.
God does respond to our needs for sure, but God isn’t just us, given ultimate power. Praying to the God “in heaven” helps us remember that we’re really talking with another person here, one who matters.
But “in heaven” aren’t the only words in the sentence. They’re not even the first words! The first words in the prayer are, “Our Father”. When we say those words, we’re claiming a relationship with God as close and deep as any we know.
Parents help form who we are. Their DNA—biological and/or social—is embedded within us. We don’t know an “us” without them and their influence. Calling God, “Father” means that even though we acknowledge God is not us, we claim God is as close to us as our own hearts. The perfect Father is never absent, never uncaring, and always loves us. That’s the God we hope for. That’s the God we have.
So, you see, both parts are necessary! The “Our Father” part reminds us that God is with us so deeply that we can’t define life properly without him. The “in heaven” part reminds us that even though God is embedded that deeply in our selves, God is NOT just our selves with a heavenly face. God is more and different than we are. We’re in a real relationship with a real, other being.
Without the “in heaven” we slip into idolatry. Without the “Our Father” God isn’t connected to us in the same way. That’s why we say both together!
Great question! Thank you! We’ll look forward to more as we continue to grow together.