For a long time it was believed that when Jesus referred to God the Father as “Abba,” it conveyed a very personal parent/child relationship with God. Abba was thought to be child-speak meaning “daddy,” evoking the image of a toddler dandled of his father’s knee. Scholars have discounted this meaning of abba, but it’s hard to erase the image of such a close relationship.
I sometimes hear people describe their relationship with Jesus Christ as a close, personal friend, or as a personal lord and saviour. Like the abba image, this terminology also conjures up images of a person and Jesus walking down the street together, perhaps engaged in a meaningful conversation.
And that got me thinking: if our relationship with God is supposed to be deep and close, like a parent to a child, or like best friends, then what name might you call God besides just God, or Jesus, or Christ, or some variation of the formal name? Our parents have actual names, but traditionally we call them Mom & Dad. Many people prefer to be called by a nickname, or a familiar version of their name. If Jesus is closer to us than any of those people could ever be, and if you could imagine the two of you walking down the street engaged in a meaningful conversation, would you want to address God as abba, or some other familiar?
The first deeper question is what difference it would make how you address God. Sometimes the names we use for Jesus describe the kind of dealings people have with him. He’s a shepherd, but would you address him as “Shepherd?” He’s a servant. Would you address him: “Servant?” I’ve been known to begin a prayer of frustration or exasperation with, “Dude…” I don’t really think God is a dude though.
The second deeper question is if God cares how we address God. In Exodus, Moses and God are in conversation and we read, “Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.'” That doesn’t sound like God is bound to any name we might assign. In Jeremiah we read God saying, “Call to me and I will answer you.” Is God just glad we keep in touch?
What do you think?