The Abba Movement – Rationale and Raison D'être
“Sigmund Freud, although he was an atheist, understood very clearly what defective fathering can do to belief in God. … Once a child or youth is disappointed in and loses his or her respect for their earthly father, they will have a harder time believing in their heavenly Father. … In just about every case, the atheists had defective relationships with their fathers.”1
Psychologist Paul C. Vitz
“The most popular prayer in the world is addressed to ‘Our Father who art in heaven.’ It is possible that man's earliest prayers were addressed to the same heavenly father.”2
Comparative Religion theorist Mircea Eliade
“The name ‘father” is applied to the Supreme Being in every single area of the primitive culture when he is addressed or appealed to. It seems, therefore, that we may consider it primeval and proper to the oldest primitive culture. We find it in the form ‘father’ simply, also in the individual form (‘my father’) and the collective (‘our father’).”3
Stone Age and Hunter-Gatherer anthropologist Wilhelm Schmidt
“Our father, who created and set in order and knows all forms, all worlds.”
Rig Veda (1200- 900 B.C.), the first major work in an Indo-European language and the holiest scripture of Hinduism
“Is not this your father, who gave you being, who made you, by whom you subsist?” Deuteronomy 32:6.
“To Do the Will of Our Father in Heaven: Toward a Partnership between Jews and Christians.
After nearly two millennia of mutual hostility and alienation, we Orthodox Rabbis who lead communities, institutions and seminaries in Israel, the United States and Europe recognize the historic opportunity now before us. We seek to do the will of our Father in Heaven by accepting the hand offered to us by our Christian brothers and sisters. Jews and Christians must work together as partners to address the moral challenges of our era.” Orthodox Rabbinic Statement on Christianity4
“The Our Father begins with a great consolation: we are allowed to say “Father.” This one word contains the whole history of redemption.”5
Poet Reinhold Schneider
“I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.” Matthew 11:25
“That you may be children of your heavenly Father.” Matthew 5:45
“But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him.” John 4:23
Lover, Love Letter, Love Story
Have you ever been in love? Have you felt your thoughts become tears? Have you heard your heart break into song?
And what if the one you love is Love Itself, the Source of all joy, the Creator of all?
And what if it was Love Itself that loved you first, that loved you into being, that asks only that you offer your love as well?
This is our story here, a “Once upon a time” tale that ends “happily ever after” if so we choose.
It is the story of a Father whose love is infinitely prodigal, prodigal in the sense of “extravagant”, and who is our Abba, our infinitely tender loving Father for whom even the word “Daddy” is not affectionate enough (although it’s a start!).
He is our Lover whose love letters WE are. And if we love him back then our life becomes the ultimate love story for we are drawn into the infinite-eternal Love Story we call God.
For God is a beginningless, endless Act of Love of the Lover (the Father), the Beloved (the Son) and the Co-Beloved (the Spirit). God is a Trinity of Love, of Three Persons in Love. God is Heart. For to be Heart is to give all of one’s being to the Other: to give totally, unconditionally, forever: to love. There is only one Godhead, one infinite Mind and Will: but it is a Heart and so “possessed” by Three, each possessing it in a particular way: and each seen by us as Heart in its own distinctive relation: the Paternal Heart (“God so loved the world”), the Heart that became man (“Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”), the Heart that fills our hearts (“God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”).
Love is the “cause,” essence and fruit of the Heart that is the tri-personal God.
Ultimately there is nothing as good, as valuable, as “worth it” as “love”: To know all things, to possess all other perfections, but not to love infinitely is to lack fullness of joy.
What is love? It is the self-sacrificing, unconditional giving of one to another, the whole-hearted willing of all that benefits the beloved.
Love in its highest form at the human level – which is the level of spirit – is thus giving, receiving, sharing.
In childbirth, we see how the human parents “give” the gift of human nature to a new “center,” a person who is the fruit of their love.
Now the essence of God, the divine essence or nature, is the infinite perfection of an infinite Mind and Will: omnipotence, omniscience, the Good.
This essence is “given” by one divine Person, “received” by another and jointly possessed with a third.
The relationship among them is one of love: total and perfect. It has no beginning, no end. It just IS.
The same divine essence, the same nature, is exercised by the Three in one eternal act of giving, receiving, possessing.
Hence there is one God and Three Persons within that one God.
To summarize: what does God do? God loves.
What does it mean to love? To give.
What kind of giving is the kind of love we find in God? The highest possible kind: the gift of one’s nature, the divine nature, the fullness of all perfection.
But to be a gift “worthy of God” it has to be given to the highest possible recipient: to One who is God by receiving the divine Life: Father and Son from all eternity.
And the love between the Two must as well be the highest possible kind of gift: again, a love that bears fruit in One who is God. The Spirit who is Love proceeds from the Father through the Son.
One Person, the Lover, gives all to Another, the Beloved, and the love they share in common, the Co-Beloved, is itself another Person: all in the one divine Mind and Will: all without beginning or end; all in one infinite Act of Love; and, hence, all as One Heart.
How do we know all this? Since God is infinite perfection, God is also infinite love. But God can be infinite love only if there is love within God.
Since God is infinite, this loving (the Father), its object (the Son) and its fruit (the Holy Spirit) must likewise be infinite: Three infinite inseparable “centers” that ARE the One.
And in what would such love consist? As we have seen, in a giving, receiving and sharing in full of the divine nature, of all that it means to be God. The divine perfections, this means, are gifted and received, possessed and exercised by the Three. There is only one God: but it is “possessed” by Three, each of whom possesses it in a particular way.
The magnificence and glory that is God, then, is a blazing furnace of love of Lover, Beloved and Co-Beloved.
The Lover is our infinitely Prodigal Father. It is this Father (the divine Paternal Heart) who seeks to draw us into his infinite-eternal Act of Love through the Beloved (the Son, the incarnate Heart) by means of the Co-Beloved (the Spirit, the spiritual Heart in our hearts).
His Love manifested itself from the beginning of creation.
The Big Bang of Be-ing
To be or not to be? Why is there something and not nothing? How did anything at all come to “be”?
The Universe we live in has trillions of galaxies with quintillions of stars (one quintillion is a billion trillion!). At every level the Universe is bursting with changes from one state to another. How did these processes begin, what keeps them going? Most important: how did they get to be here? Do they have the power to bring themselves into existence? No. For this to happen, they would have to exist before they existed!
In short, the Universe has no power of “creating” itself. Nor does it have any inherent logic of always existing. But nothing can come to be from nothingness. So how did the Universe get here?
The only answer is that it originated from “something” that has the inherent Power of always existing. Something that exists by its very nature.
For something to have a nature of always existing is to have full “control” of its existence: to not depend on anything else for BE-ING: to be self-“powered” with no limit or end! This something is what we mean by God.
As for the rest of us (i.e., the entire Universe), our ability to be, our be-ing, is “powered” entirely by God much as an electric current can “be” only with a power source.
God did not simply bring us into being. It is because of him that we continue to be just as sunlight continues to be because of the sun. God is what holds the Universe with its laws, properties, agents and history in being at every instant.
We can see our dependence on God at many levels. For instance, his entire cosmos cooperated in the creation of our physical being with countless just-right physical ratios and values:
- The expansion rate of the universe: If it was any higher, there would be no time for galaxies to form. If it was lower with the force of gravity being higher, matter would fall back on itself and form one giant lump.
- The age of the Universe: It has to be at least 13 billion years old for human life to form. If it was any earlier, there would be no time for the stellar furnaces with its 20 life-essential elements (e.g., iron) to form. If it was any later, the stars would go dim and life would not be possible.
- The mass of the Universe: If it was larger, its expansion would be slower; no light elements would form. If it was smaller, the expansion would be faster; no heavy elements would form. In either case, there would be no life.
- Nature’s fundamental constants: If there was any change in the numerical value of myriad constants such as the strength of the electromagnetic force or the constants that govern the masses of elementary particles and their interactions, life could not form.
Then there is the here and now. Bacteria, plants, animals, the “birds of the air,” us – we are all preserved in being not only with various physical parameters but with food sources and the instincts to secure food. And also the right ecosystem. If we were to go into “outer space” without protection, we would perish almost instantly thanks to its vacuum effect, low pressure, lack of oxygen, –100C/+100C temperatures, lethal radiation, meteoroids and so much else.
All this sounds very much like we were “meant” to be here: that the Universe is indeed “home.”
All this sounds, in fact, like the action of the Father of whom Jesus of Nazareth spoke: “Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”
Psalm 139 comes to mind: “You formed my inmost being …. My very self you know … I was being made in secret, fashioned in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw me unformed; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. How precious to me are your designs, O God; how vast the sum of them!” (Psalm 139: 13-6).
Everything is mystery and magic, everything is gift, everything is, in fact, the Father speaking his infinite love to us.
To be is to be loved.
“God So Loved the World”
The most famous verse in the Bible tells us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16).
The first part of the sentence, “God so loved the world” explains and gives meaning to our existence. It tells us about our Father’s Heart: the Love that brought us into being and rescues us from the mortal danger in which we placed ourselves.
It is the human face of this Lover that we see in his Beloved, the “only Son” who was sent by him to save us from our sins.
Jesus of Nazareth, the Son, is a phenomenon and not an abstract matter of history or biography or even theology. The phenomenon is Jesus here and now doing what his name proclaims: “saving his people.” And his “saving” is a story of love – total, unconditional love that he offers every one of us and asks that we show to “the least” among us. No one else ever came with a message of such overwhelming, overpowering, all-embracing, all-pervasive love: asking total surrender, total trust, offering nothing but total love. No one else came as Heart.
Exceptionally holy men had spoken of detachment from the world, of showing compassion to all living beings and of leading a pure life. But none had spoken of actively loving your enemies, of selflessly serving your fellow beings and thereby serving God, of giving up your very life to save your neighbor. The very idea of loving and forgiving your murderers while they are driving nails into your flesh is so unthinkable, so unnatural, that it could not have been invented. This is Love itself. This is the phenomenon. This is GOD.
And it was Jesus who told us about the infinite Lover, his Father who is now OUR Father.
It was Jesus who said that to see him was to see the Father.
And it is through Jesus and the Spirit who filled him that we who are love letters of the Father can become his love stories.
A Time for Truth – The Revolution Breaks Out
This is a story of the ultimate revolution – the revelation of the true nature of things, of you and me and the world, of our place in the grand scheme. It was the revelation that there is a Creator of all things, that this Creator, God, is “our” Father, that the purpose of life is to become children of the Father, our hearts one with the divine Heart, and that we are called to live from this moment forward in the Kingdom of the Father, GodSpace.
The story began “once upon a time” at the dawn of history with the creation of the physical universe and then of life-forms including those conscious, thinking beings we call homo sapiens. But somewhere along the way, there was a collision, a power failure, a death. The death of a family, the human family.
The net effect of this event was an unbridgeable gulf between Creator and creature. Humankind in every era sought to return to “the way we were.” This we see in the universal practice of sacrifice. In parallel, the Creator sought to free humanity from its self-inflicted bondage. This is what we see in the proclamations of prophets and the miracles of the Holy Ones.
The Coming of Jesus – the Climax of the Divine Outreach
Our concern at the moment is the climax of the divine outreach to the race gone astray. So we jump ahead to the coming of Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah of Israel, eternal Word of God and Redeemer of the human race. The whole identity and mission of Jesus of Nazareth centered on the Father. Jesus addressed God only as Father. The Father is “father” because Jesus as Word is his infinite-eternal Son. And the Love between Father and Son is such that it bears fruit as Another, the Holy Spirit.
The Father revealed by Jesus was:
- prodigal in his limitless love,
- more intimate than any earthly parent and therefore called Abba (the affectionate Aramaic expression for one’s own father) and, above all,
- “our” Father meeting all our needs all the time and drawing us into GodSpace, the protection and provision of his Providence.
Henceforth, we cannot see God except as the Father who makes us his children through his Son and in his Holy Spirit. The Father is infinite perfection, majestic beyond comprehension, and yet he is infinitely intimate, inconceivably more intimate than even the most affectionate of our expressions – be it “daddy” or “father” – can convey.
And yet, two millennia later, this infinitely loving Father, as also the treasure-house he bequeaths us, remain a secret! Among Christians we hear about Jesus and the Holy Spirit but very little about the Father who “so loved” us as to send his Son and his Spirit for our salvation and sanctification. The Christian calendar has Christmas, Easter and Pentecost but no commemoration of the Father’s acts. He is truly the Missing (divine) Person.
The need at the present time is to discover the three-fold dimensions of the Father revealed by Jesus: prodigal Father, Abba Father, Our Father.
We will become children of this Father living with his Life, our hearts embedded in his Paternal Heart. And we will enter GodSpace.
These are the three truths that constitute the revolutionary revelation and that we explore here:
1. God is our Father.
2. We are called to be his children, through his Son and in his Holy Spirit, in the fullest possible sense for all eternity.
3. We are offered, in this life, a shelter from all possible storms and a never-ending Power Source for all that we need – GodSpace.
What Jesus Revealed
With one exception, when he was citing Psalm 22, Jesus directly addressed God only as Father as seen over 60 times in the Synoptic Gospels and some 100 times in the Gospel of John.
Jesus tells us that “true” worship must be directed to the Father.
The Father Jesus revealed was prodigal, i.e., extravagant, in his love and generosity.
Even more astonishingly, Jesus calls God Abba, the intimate and affectionate Aramaic term for one’s own father – a first in religious history. He tells us we are all called to become children of this Abba – made possible by the Spirit of Father and the Son – and thus live with him forever.
Jesus further tells us that he is “Our” Father, who insists on meeting our every need and who urges us to turn our lives over to him. As his children, in this world we are all invited to live in the Kingdom of the Father, GodSpace, the divine Paternal Heart, Heaven here-and- now.
This is why we say that the Father unveiled to us is the Prodigal Father, Abba Father, Our Father.
We speak of this as the ultimate revolution simply because it changes the entire understanding of our origin and destiny. It transfigures our thoughts and feelings, our plans and perspectives, our choices and actions. For the first time, we see that we are dealing not with a hostile universe or a distant deity but with an infinitely loving, constantly present, ever-providing Lover – the Father. And we live as his children in his Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
We learn too that Jesus is the incarnation or human embodiment of the Father’s eternal Son who the Father sends to us because he “so” loves us. And that the Father through the Son sends us the divine Fruit of their infinite Love, their Holy Spirit.
There is a reason for the Father’s sending of his Son and his Spirit. Through the incarnation, death and resurrection of his Son on our behalf, the Father offers us redemption from our sins. Through the sending of his Holy Spirit into our “hearts,” the Father makes us his children, adopted brothers and sisters of his Son, who can live with him forever. We can only become his children if we live with his own Life – his Spirit – who are thereby able to call him “Abba.”
This revelation was a revolution at the level of knowledge. But, just as important, it was a revolution in terms of our relationship with God and the way in which we lead our lives. It was a revolution of the heart. To discover the Father is also to discover our identity as his children who live in GodSpace.
Nothing will ever be the same again
God, from our standpoint, will never be the same again. He is no longer an impersonal abstraction, a remote sovereign or an extra-cosmic Force. He is God 2.0 – our prodigal Father, present with us here and now, engaging us Heart2heart, fulfilling our deepest desires, leading us to eternal ecstasy.
And yet, surprisingly, the revolution of seeing and experiencing God as “Father” seems to have had a decisive impact only in the first Christian century. This is surprising because the constant awareness and trust in the Father is reflected only in the New Testament writings. It was less pronounced in later writings.
Everything in Jesus’ teaching was centered on the Father. But this emphasis is hardly evident in later Christianity.
Perfect Storm – Discovering the Inner Life of God While Fighting for Your Life
There was an understandable reason for this colossal oversight. The disciples of Jesus faced the challenge of consolidating the whole new body of revelation he unveiled: the incarnation of the Son; the sending of the Spirit; the indwelling of Father, Son and Holy Spirit within the One Godhead.
Jesus revealed that within God there are Three Persons. God is Three-in-One, the Trinity.
The Father is the source-less Source of the divinity in the Trinity. He gives all that he is (other than being Father) to the Son from all eternity. The love of Father and Son bears fruit as a Third Person, the Holy Spirit – again from all eternity.
The intuition of an eternal relationship within the Godhead was, in fact, shared by all the major pre-Christian religions of India, China and Israel. It was confirmed by Jesus, the human locus of the eternal Son.
The first Christian centuries were necessarily focused on exploring the divine identity of the Son and the Spirit; the “structure” of the Trinity; and the Incarnation of the Son. This treasure-house of truth had to be explored, clarified and defined.
It was the theological equivalent of discovering Relativity and Quantum Physics and then mapping out a new vision of the physical world.
It created the “perfect storm”. The followers of Jesus in the first seven hundred years of Christianity had to draw out a coherent body of doctrine from the primordial revelation. They had to “live” the faith in their worship. They had to propagate the truths handed down to them to all the world. And all this in the midst of persecution, poverty and heresy!
Son and Spirit
The incarnation of the Son of God in Jesus of Nazareth is where the final revelation began. But it took seven centuries to map the infrastructure underlying this hard fact. Then there was Jesus’ teaching that he had to leave so that “the Father” can “give you another Advocate to be with you always, The Spirit of truth.” (John 14:16). Jesus’ ascension into Heaven was followed by the fiery descent of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church. It took centuries more to grasp the role and action of the divine Spirit.
The necessary focus on the Son and the Spirit is reflected in the fact that the principal sacred celebrations of Christianity are Christmas (the incarnation of the Son), Easter (the resurrection of the Son) and Pentecost (the descent of the Holy Spirit).
But there is a “Missing Person” in this mix – the Father! There is no corresponding commemoration of the Father’s acts in salvation history.
The absence of the Father in the Christian calendar reflects a deeper problem. The Father has faded out of the Christian consciousness.
Of course, the “Our Father” remains the prayer of choice for Christian. But, too often, the prayer becomes a mechanical recitation, a formality. Many liturgies too are directed to the Father but again these remain abstract affirmations and not a living reality. And although personal prayers are often addressed to the Father, they lack the essential next steps of becoming children of the Father and entering GodSpace.
For most Christians, to live their faith means being “born again” or “filled with the Holy Spirit” or baptized or partaking of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist. There is nothing wrong with this of course. These are, in fact, essential elements of becoming children of the Father.
But essential as they are, they all revolve around something more fundamental: the Father. And the Father is missing!
That is to say, in practical terms, the center of gravity seems to have shifted almost entirely to the Son and the Spirit and remained there.
The freshness and real-world immediacy, the all-pervasive presence and transformational power of the Father revealed by Jesus are rarely recognized.
This is a tragedy because the Father is the Source and Goal of creation. It is a tragedy because the purpose of the salvific saga is to become children of the Father.
And in practical terms it is a tragedy above all because we have deprived ourselves of the Power and the Protection, the Peace and the Joy of GodSpace. It is here that the Father revealed by Jesus will transform our lives if we consciously turn to him at all times as shown by his Son. Our hearts are restless until they rest in his Paternal Heart.
But there is no need to worry. Once we recognize what was left behind, we simply have to retrace our steps to Jesus’ revolutionary revelation. There we discover our infinitely loving Father.
The discovery begins with Jesus’ revelation that the hour is “now here” when “true worshipers will worship the Father.” We then proceed to the three-fold dimensions of the Father revealed by Jesus: prodigal Father, Abba Father, Our Father.
It is he who feeds the birds in the sky and has counted “the hairs” of our heads. It is he who brought all things into being for us, he who rushes out to embrace us every time we turn our backs on him, he who has made us the heirs of his eternal Kingdom.
Our story is a journey into GodSpace that begins with the Prodigal Father who shows himself to be “our” Father and leads us into his Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”
This is the ultimate revolution which is also the ultimate love story, the ultimate “affair of the heart.” The Father who loved us into being, the Father whom we abandoned, has sent us his Son and his Spirit so that we might be able to return to him if so we choose. Regardless of what we choose, the Son gave up his life so that we might live. Such is the Love of the Father, manifested by his Son and delivered by his Spirit.
Born again in his Son, filled with his Spirit, let us return to the Abba who awaits us with robe and ring and feast.
This is what we hope to achieve in the global movement that is “Abba, Our Father, the Father of All Humanity.”
2Mircea Eliade, Patterns in Comparative Religion trans. R. Sheed (London: Sheed & Ward Ltd., 1958), 38.
3Wilhelm Schmidt, The Origin and Growth of Religion, (London: Methuen and Company, 1931), 267.
5Reinhold Schneider, Das Vaterunser (Freiburg: Herder, 1979), 10.
Copyright © 2022 R.A. Varghese