What was your name for your father growing up? For us, he was daddy, but I’ve heard titles from bampa to father, from pops to sir. We all have names for our father or father figure – seldom do I meet anyone who called him by his actual name except as a phase in high school.
Jesus used, and Paul then picked up, a beautiful phrase for His Heavenly Father – Abba. There have been many interpretations of this word, and the most common translation is “daddy”. It’s a term of endearment from a young son to his respectable father.
Jesus’ use of this for God was shocking, even sacrilegious, to His critics. It was far too familiar a word to be used for the Almighty, the Creator, the focus of their lives. This kind of intimacy was heresy, and so this became one more reason for them to condemn Him in the end.
The word Abba, however, was far worse than this. This is not the word a boy uses for his father. Let me explain.
As infants, we have just begun using our vocal chords and moving our mouths to produce sounds. So try something with me – let your mouth hang open and vocalize – you should hear something like a sustained “ahhh” coming from your mouth. Now, like an infant who has just learned to close and open his mouth, keep the vocalization and open and close your mouth a few times. Now you begin to get “Bah, ba, ba, ba, ba”. If you use your tongue as well you might get, “da da da da”. This is how we invented the honorific “dada” as an infants word for her father. In the Middle East, rather than a “da” they heard a “ba” and we got the word “Abba”.
All of this is to say that Abba is not the word a young boy uses for his father, but is the word a helpless infant uses. If we use the term Abba for our Heavenly Father, we are proclaiming ourselves as helpless infants in His sight – and truly that is what we are in spiritual terms.
Let me encourage you to use the term “Abba” in your prayers this week. Just see how the title fits, and how it feels to admit your helplessness to God.