Pastor Rolf Preus
Elders’ Retreat at Concordia, St. Paul, Minnesota
February 4, 2017
Part One: The Fatherhood of God and the Christian Father
The mystery of the Holy Trinity and the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ are the two
greatest mysteries of our Christian religion. The mystery is beyond human comprehension.
The Father begets the Son from eternity. The Son is eternally begotten of the Father. The
Holy Spirit eternally proceeds from the Father and the Son. We cannot understand how
this can be, but the confession of this mystery is not accidental to our Christian faith. It is
essential. We confess at the conclusion of the Athanasian Creed:
This is the catholic faith; whoever does not believe it faithfully and firmly cannot be
We use metaphors when we talk about God. He is not literally a shepherd, a rock, or a
fortress. When we call God Father we are not using a metaphor. In Ephesians 3:14-15 St.
For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ from whom
the whole family in heaven and earth is named.
In the Greek, the word father and family have the same root. Paul is saying that human
fatherhood gets its name from the Fatherhood of God. We don’t understand God the Father
in heaven from an analogy with the fatherhood of fathers here on earth. It is the other way
around. We learn what a human father is and ought to be by listening to what God says
about his Fatherhood. God’s Fatherhood is in the first instance the eternal relationship
between the Father and the Son. Our relationship to God as Father is through the Son. The
Father/Son relationship in the Godhead is eternal. The Son is eternally begotten of the
Father. Our relationship to our Father in heaven is by adoption in time.
There is the story of an argument between the Muslim and the Christian concerning God.
As you know, the Muslim god neither begets nor is begotten. Muslims view the almighty
power of their god as his greatest attribute. Christians view the love of God as his greatest
attribute. The Muslim told the Christian that the Christian’s God was inferior to the
Muslim’s god because love cannot exist without someone to love. If God’s greatest attribute
is love, to exercise his greatest attribute requires someone to love and that makes God
dependent on that someone. That makes God weak. The Christian replied to the Muslim’s
argument by pointing out that the Father loved the Son from eternity. There never was a
time when the Father was not the Father of the Son and there never was a time when the
Son was not the Son of the Father. The love between the persons of the Godhead is as
eternal as God himself.
So the Fatherhood of God, far from being a mere analogy from human fatherhood, is from
everlasting to everlasting. To know God is to know him as the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ. As Jesus said in his high priestly prayer, “This is eternal life: that they may know
you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” (John 17:3)
The Bible speaks of God as he is and as he acts. God is the Father of the Son. God is the Son
of the Father. God is the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son. The
relationship between the persons of the Godhead that is described by the words, beget,
begotten, and proceeding is an eternal relationship.
The Bible also speaks of God as he acts. The Father sends the Son. The Son sends the Spirit.
When the Father sends the Son he reveals himself in the Son. In sending the Son, he did not
send him in his uncovered deity. He sent him to be incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the
Virgin Mary and to be made man. It is in the manhood of Jesus that we see God. It is
specifically at the cross where the God-man suffers and dies for the sin of the world that we
see the true nature of our Father in heaven. Love defines him. Love is why he sent Jesus.
Love is revealed on the cross where our God and brother Jesus turns aside all divine anger
against us sinners and establishes peace.
It is this same Jesus who invited us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” We call it the
Lord’s Prayer because the Lord Jesus taught us to pray it. We call it the Lord’s Prayer
because it is because the Lord Jesus Christ is our Mediator before God and when the Lord
Jesus is our Mediator before God, God is our dear, loving, gracious Father.
There is no Fatherhood of God without Jesus Christ. There is no Christ without the Holy
Spirit. The Fatherhood of God is a uniquely Christian belief. The Muslim god is not the
Father. Any monotheistic so called “god” who is not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is
an idol and no Father at all. He cannot answer prayer. He cannot help anyone in any way.
He’s an invention of the human mind.
False doctrine doesn’t stand still. It is constantly mutating, as the devil tries new tricks to
con Christians into thinking he’s an angel of light. There is the “light” of Freemasonry – out
of fashion nowadays, as the younger generation has little time for such things – that
promotes a syncretistic religion whereby all gods are basically the same. They talk about
the fatherhood of god. There was the religious humanism of the folk music of the sixties
that featured Peter, Paul, and Mary singing, “Because All Men Are Brothers,” to the tune of
“O Sacred Head Now Wounded.” With the feminist assault, the syncretistic father-god of
freemasonry and the humanistic father-god of the now generation have given way to the
gender-free god or goddess of the twenty first century.
On Trinity Sunday, 1999, as I was driving north on I-29 between Mayville and Grand Forks,
North Dakota, I heard a sermon on the radio from a pastor of a congregation of the ELCA in
Grand Forks in which he said that, while we may call God Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it is
fine to refer to him, as a female colleague of his liked to do, as “Mother, Lover, and Friend.”
“Mother, Lover, and Friend” is for some pretty much the same thing as Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit. That’s because they remake God in their own image and fashion him into an
Whether the denigration of the office of father in our homes led to the rise of the
androgynous god/goddess, or whether the loss of the right understanding of the
Fatherhood of God led to the decline of the office of father, the Fatherhood of God and office
of Christian father are bound together. That should not surprise us inasmuch as the father
of the home is God’s representative.
God is our Father and the Church is our mother. It was St. Cyprian of Carthage who, in the
third century, famously said: “He can no longer have God for his Father who has not the
Church for his mother.” In the twenty first century we must also say, “He who turns God
the Father into God the mother cannot claim the church as his mother. To teach that God
may be addressed equally as both mother and father is to deny God. He who identifies
himself as I AM does not exist as mother.
There are nouns that use the female gender and are also used to identify God. For example,
wisdom takes the female gender and is used by Solomon in the Proverbs to refer to God,
specifically the second person of the Trinity. Jesus uses the simile of a hen gathering her
chicks under her wings to express his desire to gather Israel together. The use of such
language does not make God female.
But then, neither is God male, if by male we mean everything that pertains to human
maleness. A male human being has a body that, under normal circumstances, has the
capacity to engage in sexual activity with a woman that can result in procreation. God, on
the other hand, has no body. He is a spirit. Thus, speaking of God as a male is confusing.
Maleness and femaleness entail bodily functions and bodily differences.
The Bible uses anthropomorphisms when referring to God as if God were a human being.
He walks in the garden, he has a right hand, and he sits on a throne. These are
anthropomorphisms: God is being depicted as if he is a human being. The Mormon religion
takes biblical anthropomorphisms literally, and teaches that God possesses human form. In
fact, they teach that God used to be a man. Their doctrine of eternal progression says: As
man is, so God once was; as God is, so man may become.
God is not a man. He does not have a body. God is a spirit. When we speak of him as he has
revealed himself in the Holy Scriptures, we speak of him as the Father who begets and as
the Son who is begotten and as the Holy Spirit who proceeds. When speaking of the Son,
who became flesh and blood, we follow the pattern of sound words contained in the
Athanasian Creed, where we confess concerning the oneness of Christ’s person, that he is
one Christ, “not by the conversion of the divinity into flesh, but by the assumption of the
humanity into God.” God did not change into a man. God cannot change. God remained
God when he became a man.
The Fatherhood of God is depicted in Scripture in terms of human fatherhood by the use of
similes. For example, in Psalm 103:13, David writes, “As a father pities his children, so the
LORD pities those who fear him.” These beautiful words have inspired beautiful hymns. It
will be instructive for us to consider how one of these hymns has been rendered in our
hymnals in recent years. Consider the hymn, “My Soul, Now Bless Thy Maker,” hymn #34
in The Lutheran Hymnal, published in 1941. Stanza three begins with these words:
For as a tender Father
Hath pity on his children here,
He in his arms will gather
All who are His in childlike fear. (TLH 34 stanza 3)
In Lutheran Worship, published in 1982, the wording of that verse was changed to:
For as a loving mother
Has pity on her children here,
God in his arms will gather
All those who him like children fear. (LW 453 stanza 3)
The Lutheran Service Book, published in 2006, returned to the former wording:
For as a tender father
Has pity on His children here,
God in His arms will gather
All who are His in childlike fear. (LSB 820 stanza 3)
LSB corrected an error introduced by LW. The error in LW was not that it compared God’s
love and a mother’s love. The error was that it eliminated the comparison of God’s love and
a father’s love. The eternal Son of the Father teaches Christian fathers what fatherhood is
all about when he says, “Be merciful, as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:36)
We will examine feminism a bit more closely later on today, but at this point, suffice it to
say, that an underlying assumption of the feminist creed is that patriarchy is bad. It is
inherently abusive, exploitative, and degrading to women. That’s not true. Patriarchy – the
rule of fathers – among us Christians derives from the biblical teaching of the Fatherhood of
God. That is the very opposite of abusive. The love of God the Father for his dear Son is
from everlasting to everlasting. It has never wavered. It has never been withdrawn. Even
when Jesus was bearing the sin of the world and God’s wrath against it, so that he cried out,
in fulfillment of the Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” at no time was
his communion with the Father broken. When he died his last words were: “Father, into
your hands I commend my spirit.” (Luke 23:46) Our heavenly Father is full of compassion.
For Christ’s sake, because of the Father’s love for his only begotten Son, because of the
merits of Jesus, his obedience, his righteousness, and his suffering, our Father in heaven
receives our prayers. When we pray, “Our Father,” by the invitation of Jesus, we do so with
all boldness and confidence that he hears us as a dear father hears his dear children.
The Christian father prays “Our Father” knowing that the office he holds is sanctified by the
eternal love that exists between God the Father and his only begotten Son. That eternal
love was revealed in space and time on Calvary, where Jesus took away our sins. All our
sins and failures as fathers were washed away. There we were reconciled to God. There,
where the blood of God’s Son is shed for us all, we fathers find the grace to do what God
gives fathers to do.