As a gardener, I must admit that I prefer using the common or folk names for flowers. These sometimes-ancient names are often whimsical and enchanting, like “Miss Willmott’s Ghost,” whose origins we explored last week.
Who wouldn’t love calling flowers by such names as cherry pie plant, lady’s slipper, love-in-a-mist, baby blue eyes, bachelor’s button, quaker ladies, whirling butterflies, johnny-jump-up, busy lizzie, or candytuft? It makes the heart sing to use endearing names like these.
The scientific or botanical names for flowers, on the other hand, can seem daunting. They’re usually derived from Latin, and while they can give a more accurate description of what a plant’s nature is, they can sound a bit intimidating to my ears.
In fact, some botanical names actually sound like a disease:
“Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve got Scabiosa again.”
“That’s nothing! You should see my sister’s Myosotis: it’s rampant.”
“You don’t say! But did you hear about Kelly? She’s got Nepeta nervosa.”
“No! Is she seeing a psychiatrist for that?”
(In case you’re wondering, Scabiosa is the botanical name for the pincushion flower; you might know Myosotis better as the little blue forget-me-not; and Nepeta nervosa is a type of catmint.)
I’m so glad that we have the opportunity to use informal names for the flowers we cherish.
In the same way, believers have been given the great privilege of using a remarkably intimate name for God: “Abba Father.”
When Jesus used the word “Father” for God as He taught the disciples what became known as “The Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13), I wonder if they were a bit taken aback at first by the term’s informality? After all, they were probably more accustomed to Old Testament names for God like these:
Elohim: “Creator God”
El Elyon: “God Most High”
El Roi: “The God Who Sees”
El Shaddai: “God Almighty”
Jehovah Jireh: “The Lord Will Provide”
Jehovah Nissi: “The Lord Is My Banner”
Jehovah Rapha: “The Lord Who Heals You”
Jehovah Tsidkenu: “The Lord Our Righteousness”
Jehovah Shalom: “The Lord Is Peace”
These terms for God give a good description of His manifold nature, and permit us to better understand various aspects of His essence. But while they give us crucial information about who God is, they’re still somewhat formal and perhaps a bit daunting for some people.
That’s why it’s such a revelation to learn that as Christians, we’ve been adopted into the family of God, and thus have the right as sons and daughters to address God as our Father.
“So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, ‘Abba, Father.’ ” (Romans 8:15 NLT)
Calling God our Father immediately connotes a much warmer and less distant or intimidating relationship. The term “Abba Father” is thought by some to be equivalent to “Papa” or “Dad”: others translate it simply as “my father.” Either way, it heralds the possibility of an undreamed-of intimacy with the Creator of the Universe, a closeness unthinkable in any other religion.
This name for God is rich with meaning for our lives. The word “Father” gives believers the confidence and freedom to approach God in the spirit of affectionate and trusting children. It tells us that God views us and cares for us as members of His family. It assures us that God has lovingly provided an inheritance for us: the gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus.
I cherish being able to call plants by such colloquial names as dutchman’s breeches, baby’s breath, and lamb’s ears.
But I cherish infinitely more the privilege of being able to call the God of the Universe my Father!
© 2020 Lori J. Cartmell. All rights reserved.