November 12, 2007

"Abba! Father!" and transracial adoption

"And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!'" (Galatians 4:6)

The first person who ever called me "Daddy" was my daughter, Hannah. I can still remember what it felt like as a new father to hear that word come from her young little lips. She’s now 11 years old and still calls me by the same name; and it continues to fill me with a sweet joy.

Hannah is not the only one in our household that calls me "Daddy." There are two others, Isaiah (5) and Noah (4). They are my sons through transethnic adoption. Both of them call me "Daddy" as often as Hannah does. If you visited our home on any day of the week, you would hear one White child and two Black children referring to me as "Daddy" - and my heart is filled with the same sweet joy every time I hear that name, no matter which of my children says it. I am the privileged and happy father of a multi-ethnic family.

I'm sure you have heard that "Abba" (from "Abba! Father!" - Galatians 4:6) is the Aramaic equivalent to our word "Daddy." This is often argued because of how easy the word "Abba" is to say, but I think this understanding of "Abba" misses the point.

Its significance lies not in the thought that those adopted by God now have the privilege of calling Him "Daddy." As warm as that thought may be to many who have heard it, I think Paul has something else in mindsomething that tells us about the unique makeup of the family God has brought together through the gospel.

"Abba" is an Aramaic word with two parts. The first part, ab, is a standard Semitic word meaning "father." The second part, ba, makes the name a form of address. We don't have a direct equivalent in English, but the easiest way to explain abba is to say that you could refer to someone else's father as ab, but if you say abba, you can only be talking to or about your own father. For children, the best word capturing this is "Daddy." For those of us who are older, "Dad" or "Father" are appropriate equivalents to abba. Recognizing this keeps us from over sentimentalizing our understanding of abba.

When we call God abba, we express heartfelt, joy-filled honor for him. It says that we have come to deeply love and respect the one who has faithfully and unswervingly demonstrated himself to be our loving, caring, protecting Father.

But knowing how to translate the word abba doesn't tell us why Paul uses both the Aramaic and Greek words for father to refer to God as Father in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. I think Paul uses these two forms of father from two different languages so that we realize that God the Father is not a respecter of ethnic origin when it comes to membership within His family. Whatever your ethnicity, your country of origin, or your language, if you have been adopted by God through faith in Jesus, you have the right and privilege to call God "Father." Regardless of ethnicity, those who come to faith in Jesus, having heard that God sent forth His Son to redeem us, come to deeply love and respect the one who has faithfully and unswervingly demonstrated Himself to be their loving, caring, protecting Father.

One of the glories of the gospel is that the Spirit of God places "Abba! Father" in our hearts and on our lips irrespective of our ethnic origins. Clearly, it is God's great joy and pleasure to create for Himself a multi-ethnic family. So if you are a father of an earthly multi-ethnic family, rejoice in the glory and grace of the gospel each time you hear one of your different-race children calling you "Daddy."

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