Friday, August 14, 2020

The Vision (8.14.20): The Father of Lights


Image: Wild ponies grazing under overcast skies, off the Appalachian Trail, Grayson Highlands State Park, Grayson County, Virginia, August 2020.

Note: Devotion taken from last Sunday's sermon on James 1:17-20.

Every good and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning (James 1:17).

I noted Sunday that in James 1:17-20 three key themes are explored by the apostle: Who is God (vv. 17-18a)? Who is the redeemed sinner (v. 18b)? How should we live (vv. 19-20)?

James begins with theology (Who is God?). He uniquely identifies God here as “the Father of Lights”.

Christ taught us to pray, “Our Father, which art in heaven….” Of course, this is the language of analogy. God is not a male. Christ said to the woman at the well: “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). We are not the physical offspring of God.

And yet the language here is not accidental. Although there are a handful of scattered “maternal” images for God in the Scriptures (cf. Psalm 91:4), the predominant Biblical image for God is as a Father.

Our liberal Protestant friends are thus wrong when they try to be gender inclusive and begin their prayers, “Our mother, which art in heaven….”

Nearly 30 years ago, back in the August 16, 1993 issue of Christianity Today magazine, there was an article, still well worth reading, titled, “Why God is not Mother,” by a woman OT scholar named Elizabeth Achtemeier, which ably makes this point.

The Bible calls God Father, because it suggests that he is like an ideal Father. Even if you did not have a good and loving human Father, you can still imagine what an ideal Father should be.

How is God like an ideal Father?

He is the initiator. He is the one who conceives the plan to be carried out. He is the one who issues decrees to accomplish his plan. He is the one who provides from the fullness of who he is. He does not let his children go hungry. He meets their physical needs. He is generous and kind and liberal in his affections with his children. He is a loving Father. He satisfies the emotional and spiritual needs of those who are his own. The ideal Father will also exercise discipline, not because he enjoys punishment, but because he desires to train, correct, and improve his children. A Father is a protector and defender. He will step in the gap to shield his dear ones from any threat. A Father is also a rescuer and a savior. If he sees his child in danger, he will intervene to pluck him out of trouble.

Every human father will confess that he falls short of this ideal, but every Christian will affirm that our heavenly Father perfectly fulfills this ideal in his paternal care for us.

James adds that God is “the Father of lights.” What is meant by this?

The first thing that came to my mind was an acknowledgement of God as the creator of light and the creator of the heavenly bodies that provide light to this world (cf. day one and day four of creation, Genesis 1:3, 14).

One might also think of the triune God and how God the Father sent forth his Son who declared, “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).

Or one might especially think, given the plural here (lights), of the spiritual illuminations and graces, which he bestows on so many.

Matthew Poole observed here: “God is the author of all perfection, and so of corporeal light; but here we understand spiritual light, the light of knowledge, faith, holiness, as opposed to the darkness of ignorance, unbelief, sin; of which he cannot be the author.”

There is a theological point being made here: God is the Father of lights, not the Father of darkness. As the theologians say, God is not the author of evil.

By starting with God, James reminds us that we will not understand ourselves, or how we are to live, until we know who our God is. He is the Father of lights.

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

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