Quite by chance I saw an article explaining how Roman fathers would keep their hands folded when presented with their newborn children. They had the choice to except or reject paternity. To reject meant the child would be cast onto the street to be at the mercy of passers-by or carrion for hungry birds. Open arms meant life, love and a future as a child of the father. Within Roman society formal adoption was common amongst higher ranking citizens an example of this is Julius Caesar adopting Octavius, who became the Emperor Augustus. Most rejected children whether because of gender or defect just ended up placed outside the home to die. For the fortunate few who were adopted they became one with the family as if natural born. God has, through Christ done the same for us.
As we lay shivering, bloody, on the point of death Jesus made it possible for our adoption. Literally ‘saved’ from death. Due to Calvin the word ‘predestination’ has become theologically loaded. Barnstone in the restored New Testament uses the word destined instead. Imagine Victorian London, street urchins rough sleeping, grubbing a living from picking pockets, pilfering and prostitution, without hope, angry becoming children of wrath, outside of society. Had they found themselves in Brazil a few years back, invisibility would have become a necessary skill to avoid being gunned down, as rogue police began their nightly cull. Within English history Dr Barnardo stands out as an exemplar of compassion and provision for orphans, but he could never become father to all. Instead he founded institutions to provide a solution for the needs of the day.
Paul, as a Hebrew first born son, to whom Christ revealed Himself, wrestled to find analogies to explain the ‘theology’ of God coming to our world and offering son-ship to the whole of humanity. On the streets of the foreign cities Paul visited he began to find the pictures and the language to explain the riches that Father wished to shower on all of mankind through Christ. He found expressive ways to explain our adoption into the goodness and Commonwealth of ‘Yahweh’ the Hebrew God.
Jesus himself told the story of the shepherd seeking the one lost from a flock of 100 sheep. This analogy, coupled to Paul likening us to orphans, allows me to see Father roaming through time’s byways and highways, clambering into storm drains to seek out the truly outcast. I see him coming across a rough sleeper sheltering from the elements on a sea shore and going beyond providing a tent or a meal. Clasping the child to himself, Father offers son-ship and a home, brothers and sisters; family. We people of faith are foundlings.
Paul, I believe, is more often than not lost for words in his letters trying to explain the riches available to us in Jesus. In Ephesians metaphor and analogy pour forth in his attempt to express his vision of God’s Grace. Possibly other voices added caveats and commentary from chapter three onwards. For 2,000 years Christendom has sought to control the entry-level and the terms and conditions of membership for adoption; Father just keeps on seeking and finding.
At this time l am well aware of, although not well versed in, feminist theology. Moses asked God what His name was – ‘I am’ came the reply, thereby maintaining the mystery of both name and gender. So, at the moment I am sticking with Father. Isaiah likened God to a mother hen gathering her chicks to herself. Paul speaks of male and female both made in the image of God. ‘God’ is an old German/English word. Language alone is an inadequate medium for trying to convey the mystery of the faith we hold dear. Over time we may get nearer to a name for God which conveys a more rounded, fuller understanding of the divine nature.