I’ve mentioned before that the translation of the word Abba was a watershed moment in my Christian journey.
Abba is the Aramaic word for father that Jesus used when talking to God. Traditionally, it’s been translated as ‘Papa’, but some have gone a little further and landed on a different paternal term of affection.
And when I first heard about that, half a decade or so ago, it blew my mind.
‘If God invites us to call him Daddy, maybe he loves us the way we love our children when they’re toddlers,’ I reasoned. ‘When your one-year-old is learning to walk and she takes a step, then falls flat on her fanny, you’re not frustrated with her failure to take two steps; you’re elated that she managed to take one! “That’s my girl!” you bellow as you scoop her up in your arms, shower her with kisses and tell you how proud you are of her. That’s the way we love our toddlers, and we’re imperfect humans with a frail, crude human hearts; how much greater is our heavenly father’s love for, and pride in, us?!?’
Recently, though, I’ve discovered that some scholars take issue with the Abba-Daddy translation, suggesting we’re inferring connotations that weren’t tied to the word in the First Century. Here are a couple of examples:
- Does “Abba” Father mean I can call God Daddy?
- Abba Isn’t Daddy – The Traditional Aramaic Father’s Day Discussion
I’m no linguist, so I’m not about to wade into the debate. But scholastically sound or not, I think it can be helpful to think about God as Daddy, rather than Father.
A daddy dotes on his kids. Takes them for ice cream. Teaches them how to catch a baseball. Plays Snakes and Ladders with them. Helps them with their homework. Wipes tears. Gives hugs. Laughs at a million and one knock-knock jokes. Kisses boo-boos. Prays for them. Prays with them. Daddies aren’t just taskmasters and teachers; they’re mentors and models. Daddies would do anything for their children.
A father, on the other hand, can be nothing more than a sperm donor. And even in supposedly functional, two-parent families, a father can be just the breadwinner/handyman/disciplinarian. A father can be aloof and distant. Present in body, but absent in spirit from his kids’ lives.
Daddyhood is a privilege and a blessing. Fatherhood, at worst, can be unwanted and accidental. All too often, it’s mere obligation.
That doesn’t sound like the kind of love that God has for you and me. He didn’t leave the throne of Heaven to become one of us, just so He could die for us, out of mere obligation.
I think God feels privileged and blessed to have you for His child. And He hopes the feeling is mutual.
But maybe the actual disconnect here isn’t between modern anglophones and ancient Aramaophones (probably not a real word) on what Abba literally means. Maybe the disconnect is between Heaven and Earth on what it truly means to be a father.
Peace be with you.