As I was out praying this morning (14.02.2005) I started to ask the question, “What is the difference between losing (emotionally, spiritually or physically) a brother (used inclusively of sister) and losing a father (used inclusively of both parents)?” Only the father has given you life – therefore the death of the life- giver must be evocative of one’s own death in a way that the death of a brother cannot be. Since death is the wages of sin, as a punishment from God, this situation will be intolerable to the human person (Rom 6:23).
(The giving of life in the father- son relationship is the incomparable attribute of potency that is possessed by the father alone. A son may become evidently more intelligent, physically stronger, more talented or whatever, but he is always whatever he is because he was first given life by the father. To find a sense of identity by achieving beyond one’s father (competition) is therefore an emotionally futile exercise.)
The fear of death as a punishment for sin opens up people to the power of the evil one (1 Cor 15:56; Heb 2:14-15). His principle strategy, as the false and substitute father of humanity (John 8:44) is to entice humanity to idolatry. Idols are looked to as objects of worship because they can provide for human needs that will either stave off the consciousness of the fear of death (as in materialism), or, because they promise (as in false religions) to remove death as a judgement. This dynamic of father – substitution is explicit in the Old Testament (Jer 2:27) and lies behind Paul’s appeal to God’s Fatherhood in his Athenian address (Acts 17:24- 29).
The cost of the loss of the attachment to the life- giver must, by the order of creation, however actually experienced, be greater than the loss of a sibling. Symmetrically, the attachment to a “father” as a life giver will be in the divine order potentially more rewarding than to an equal in potency. This means that the human person, will always seek to have psychological objects of attachment that ameliorate the fear of death associated with the loss of a father figure and to ensure the presence of an equivalent to a father. These “father – attachments” are all idols and doomed to failure.
Spiritually, this endeavour to find “fathers” is impossible from the beginning. This is because the progenitor of the race, Adam, was not only the first person to die but the source of all subsequent deaths (Gen 2:17; Rom 5:12).
This spiritual reality, embedded in guilt and shame before God, means that the psychological impulse to attach oneself to idealized accepting father figures (free from the limitations of our own natural fathers) are enormous. (This is a reversal of the psychoanalytical perspective on the origin of religious belief. Freud himself, for example, became one of a series of (disappointing) father – figures in the history of “psychology as a religion”. The distortion of the father role as the God – given and thereby absolutely reliable gracious provider of life explains the deep attachments that exist to the leaders of hierarchical systems. It is not coincidental that rulers from Stalin to the pope have been called “father” and the concept of “father/motherland” has had such power in human history.
All top down systems are essentially co-dependent. The necessary cost of this is a failure to realize one’s true identity. (Failure to individuate.) This is because self- identity depends on equality. The ultimate ground for this conviction is not philosophy or psychology but the Christian belief in the trinity. All Christians believe in the differences between Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but hold that these are entirely compatible with the equality of the three Persons. If the Father was essentially greater than the Son and the Spirit then genuine unity within God would be impossible as equal dependence between the Persons would be excluded. There is no power and life differential within the Godhead.
The implications of this are that all Christians must live exactly as Jesus said we should: “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one master, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father’, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” (Matt 23:8-9).
The importance of this cannot be over-estimated. The level of abuse to which many people inside and outside of the church submit is in direct proportion to their desire to find a true father on earth. This is an impossible quest from which they can be spared. Once we realize that it is relatively safe to lose a brother rather than a “father” the power that holds together all hierarchical systems of dominance vanishes.
This is not to say that all groups that claim to be non –hierarchical are in fact so. Sometimes it is the case that dominant personalities simply substitute for titles; “pastor”, “reverend”, “father”, is no more, but the asymmetry of real power remains the same. The test for this is simple, does everyone have an equal voice? Some may in practice say more than others, but in principle the voice of any person could be the deciding factor in hearing the voice of God.
The co- dependencies associated with the problems described above will not shift easily. Everyone in the church today seems to be seeking a “spiritual father” or wanting to be the same. The former are looking for security and the latter for significance. “Fathering” through an elevated position granted by superior knowledge, spiritual gifts, gender, age, position or any other criterion keeps us a community from the fullness of the blessings of God. Psalm 133 proclaims a blessing on the brothers who dwell together in unity; it does not proclaim a blessing on a situation that mirrors inequality or dominance – submission. This is one of the key reasons why the church in western countries is not experiencing the spiritual prosperity of God.
Humanly, the inner forces leading to attachment to father figures are unbreakable at the deepest level. This is necessarily so whilst the fear of death is a universal reality in the human heart. The only force strong enough to set us free from these demonic dynamics is the gospel.
Even though Jesus was equal with God (Phil 2:6), by freely becoming human “flesh” (John 1:14) he became less than the Father (John 14:28). The Father is “greater” than Jesus in the sense that most matters to human salvation, in other words, the Father cannot die, the Father is immortal (1 Tim 6:16). The purpose of the death and resurrection of Jesus is that humanity through Christ might share in God’s indestructible nature (2 Pet 1:4). This happens in the following way.
On the cross Jesus destroys the power of sin in two ways (Rom 8:3; 1 Cor 15:57; Heb 2:14). Firstly, he embraces the fullness of the wage of sin which is relational death or separation from God. In his cry of dereliction Jesus experiences God as wholly other than himself, a God who is so remote that he has no intimation whatsoever of the experience and terror of death (Mark 15:34). This is to bear hell. This is the negative side of the cross. Positively, even though Jesus must die in body and soul he never dies to the Father; in other words, he never stops reaching out to God as his God and the source of his life. This is absolutely honouring to the truth of who God is as Father.
The result of the Son honouring the Father in the cross is that the Father honours the Son in the resurrection. In raising Jesus from the dead and exalting him to his right hand the Father has given “the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5) “the name that is above every name”, this is the name “Lord” (Phil 2:9- 11), the Old Testament name for God. This means that Jesus now enjoys immortality- deathlessness (2 Tim 1:10) and so an equality of glory with the Father in heaven.
For this reason Jesus now relates to us, not as a father, but as his brothers (Matt 28:12; John 20:17; Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11-12,17). In treating us as equals (in terms of the relationship he has as a human being with the Father), he takes us into an unconditional experience of the Father’s love and power (Rom 8:6- 17; Gal 4:4- 6). Here we find all the security and significance we need (1 John 3:1). In the midst of this experience we no longer feel any need to surround ourselves with fallible human constructs (idols) that can never really assure us that we need not fear death. Only our immortal brother, beyond the clutches all evil, can do this for us.
To enter into this knowledge we must consciously move away from expecting perishable “flesh and blood” (1 Cor 15:50) to satisfy our eternal needs (Eccl 3:10). This must mean that the church repent of looking to human figures in leadership to provide what only God can. Most of the “apostolic fathers” in the contemporary church are in fact, whatever the nature of their charismatic gifting, obscuring the way to God the Father through Jesus as the only mediator (1 Tim 2:5).
God is in fact raising up a new type of apostle, ones like Jesus (Heb 3:1>Matt 28:12; John 20:17; Rom 8:29; Heb 2:11- 12, 17) and Paul (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1 etc. > 1 Cor 5:58; Eph 6:21; Phil 4:1; Col 4:7; 1 Thess 1:4; 2 Thess 2:13; Phlm 16) who understand that the authority of apostolicity is essentially expressed in brotherhood. That is, bringing men and women together into that fundamental equality and so true relational power of being full covenant partners with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This revival of New Testament apostolic life will prove to be, to appropriate someone else’s words, “the new apostolic reformation”.
As long as we relate to men as men through men, and not men as men through Jesus Christ, we can never appropriate our common brotherhood. Paul understood this truth of apostolic fatherhood (1 Cor 4:15). This was a struggle in his time (2 Cor 10:11-12) and it is one we must engage in today. On its outcome depends the whole future of the church as we know it.