Renaming “God”

Text: Ezek 16:8-22 ; Ps 104:14-35; Acts 14:8-18; John 13:1-15



There’s something dreadfully wrong when we hear Christian people talking a lot about “God” and not speaking much about “Jesus”, for scripture teaches us that whatever we truly know about God we know only through the gospel of Christ (John 17:3; Acts 17:29-31).

In our multicultural post-Christian society “God” can mean almost anything.

Many people will tell you they believe in “God” but their lives show no evidence of it; they’re what we call “practical atheists” (Ps 53:1); “Oh My God!” (OMG) has become a popular exclamation today but it certainly isn’t a prayer. And common language shouldn’t deceive us into thinking that the “God” of the Muslims is the Father of Jesus. In fact the Koran goes out of its way to deny Allah has a son.

There are places in the New Testament where even demons testify that there’s one God but that won’t keep them out of hell (Mark 5:7; Acts 16:17; James 2:19). The apostolic message is crystal clear, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”” (Acts 4:12). The groundwork for a spiritual revival today must begin with a revival in speaking about Jesus! Such a transformation will never come unless we move beyond a spirituality tied to creation.


Ours is a land greatly blessed, I can recall the brilliant starry skies of outback Australia, the beautiful white beaches of northern Queensland, the grand vistas over the desert from the top of Uluru and the majestic forest as it comes down to the sea at Denmark. But no one turns from their wicked ways to worship the Father of Jesus (John 4:23) through contemplating nature.

We are like the pagans to whom Paul preaches, “he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”” (Acts 14:17). As a nation we have turned away from the Master Designer (Acts 17:27) living increasingly lawless lives. Against the backdrop of our marvellous climate and geography our spiritual dullness marks us out as an especially wicked people.

The other week a devout Christian friend and I, he’d grown up in one of those cold Eastern European countries, walked out of his house into the sunshine and brilliant blue skies over Perth and he spontaneously exclaimed. “This is paradise, and anyone who doesn’t think that is wrong.” Cf. Korean Christian arriving in Australia; “This place is like the Garden of Eden, no wonder people here don’t believe in God.”

Instead of a nation of grateful worshippers we are a country of complainers; we whinge about politicians, hospitals, schools, the police force, public transport… We are the people of whom Paul speaks in Romans who see God’s “eternal power and divine nature in the things that have been made” but “without excuse” wickedly refuse to “honour (God) him as God or give thanks to him” (Rom 1:18, 20-21).

Our rank ingratitude in the face of our material blessedness surely places Australia under a far more severe judgement than almost anywhere else in the world (Luke 12:47-48).

This terrible state began with a profound corruption concerning the identity of “God” in Eden.


WHAT’S IN A NAME? That which we call a rose By any other word would smell as sweet;”

This might be true of roses but it is insidiously false when it comes to how the God of the Bible reveals himself in the foundational chapters of Genesis. Where in our English versions we find the word “God” used throughout Genesis 1 this is a translation of a Hebrew word (Elohim) that would be recognised by people outside of Israel.

From Genesis 2:5 on however we find the name “LORD God” (Yahweh Elohim) used, a name unique to Israel’s covenant relationship with their Redeemer, the personal name specially revealed to Moses (Ex 3:14). So when we read in Genesis 2:17; “the LORD God commanded the man, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.””, we can see that Adam had an intimate personal knowledge of the divine will.

Then suddenly in Genesis 3 Satan enters the scene and with brilliant trickery debases the Word of the LORD by saying, ““Did God (Elohim, not Yahweh Elohim) actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”” (3:1).

By distorting language, the devil undermines the personal character of the commandment of the LORD.

When the dulled damsel replies, “God (Elohim) said”, not “Yahweh Elohim said” (Gen 3:3), Eve has already begun her Fall.

We know the rest of the story, Adam and Eve desire to be like “God” (Elohim) and lose the glory of intimate communion with the LORD’s (Yahweh’s) personal presence (Gen 3:7ff.; Rom 3:23).

Fallen human beings will always try to reduce “God” language to something manageable.

So it is that Indigenous peoples all over the world believe in a great Creator, but knowledge of such a distant deity never has power to save them from their idolatries.

Even Israel exchanged the glory of the LORD for the worship of other gods (cf. Ps 106:20). In deep pain the LORD/Yahweh exclaims; “she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.” (Hos 2:8; cf. Ezek 16:8-22; Rom 1:23).

The sin of ingratitude is timeless. Before they entered the Promised Land the LORD warned his people, vs.17Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ vs.18 …remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deut 8:17-18). In our world children are taught, “You can be anything you want to be.”, you can construct your own gender, fashion your own identity. Adults stream to life coaches to “reinvent” themselves.

All such follies stand as signs of the judgements of God (Rom 1:21ff.). We should expect these sorts of things of the world. But when professing Christian people face retirement with a self-centred attitude, even a “bucket list”, which says, “We deserve it, we’ve worked hard for it.” we’ve conveniently forgotten we could never achieve anything apart from the gifts God has given us (1 Cor 4:7). Things are bad, really bad. So let’s turn to Jesus.


Unlike us Jesus never forget who he was, where he had come from and where he was going. We read today in John’s Gospel, “Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God…” (John 13:3). Satan has led all humanity on a path to usurp creation from God (cf. Luke 4:6), but Jesus knew everything he had given to him by his Father (Matt 28:18; John 17:2). But he also knew his inheritance would come in a way radically counter to all the cultures of humanity, the way of the cross.

The depths of the sufferings of Jesus expose and challenge to the core all abuses of God-language. Have you ever heard another believer casually call the Father of Jesus “Abba”, or even “Dad”? Quite frankly I am not sure who’s these folks are talking to for their is a weightiness in calling God “Abba, Father” that is immeasurable.

The only place where Christ says “Abba, Father,” (Mark 14:36 cf. Rom 8:15) is in Gethsemane where he is being crushed to death under the sorrow of bearing the cup of God’s wrath on the sin of the world. In the utmost existential crisis of identity (Heb 5:7-8) Jesus’ soul understands that bearing the cup of wrath (Isa 51:17, 53:3; Jer 25:15; Rev 14:10) means losing the intimate personal covenant presence which has always empowered him to name God as “Father”.

The cross’s cry of dereliction, ““My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) is a revelation that under our judgement God the Son can no longer discern where he has come from and where he is going and it seems like nothing has been given into his hands. On the cross Jesus must embrace all of humanity’s distortion, misuse, and manipulation of the name “God”, in whatever language. An abuse for which we all deserve eternal condemnation (Ex 20:7). But the good news is since Christ’s death is a death in our place it means the death of our inability to truly speak of God.

When he was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father (Rom 1:4; 6:4) Jesus naturally began to speak of his disciples in a relationally supercharged way; “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”” (John 20:17). A band of brothers and sisters who gather together, pray, and ministry in the name of Jesus immersed by the Spirit in the love of the Father is the very essence of the Church. A Jesus-centred Church is a normal Church, but this is a body formed only in the way Jesus own God-language entered perfection, through obedient suffering (Heb 2:10; 5:9).


A Christian friend visited me recently who has had a painful divorce a host of family problems a long history of depression. In conversation he shared with me his daily routine; thanking God for life and another day when he awakes, for food on the table, the car he has been given to drive, the friend he is on the way to see…..and on and on.

Beyond all human diagnoses he has power to live like this because being humbled by the Lord over many years he has come to see “God” through crucified eyes. He has been released from his own religious imagination and the distorting lens of culture, tradition and family influences to see Jesus and the Father more and more as they really are. He can testify that above all God is a crucified God. Only those who possess a vision of life (Acts 17:25) through the lens of the cross (crucivision) can understand and name “God” as he really is (cf. 1Cor 3:21-23).

Someone rang me the other day as part of a pastoral search for their church, and wanted to know what I could tell them about a certain minister. I don’t know the man personally but counselled they ask him what has been the most painful experience of life and what he had learnt about Jesus through it.

The revelation of who God is does not come through intelligence, personality, giftedness or achievements, but submission in suffering.

Many of us at St Marks have suffered in deeply painful ways, yet many of us find it difficult to talk to one another, let alone non-Christians, about JESUS. How can this change?


Firstly we must want to witness a dramatic shift in our speech. Satan has progressively encouraged the use of relatively inoffensive “God” language inside and outside of the Church to push out the name he hates above all other names, the only name to which he must submit, the name of….. (Mark 9:38; Acts 4:12; 16:18; 19:13; Phil 2:9).

Only the name of Jesus is filled with prophetic power to revive the Church and converting to save the world (Luke 24:47; Rev 19:10).

As I walked into a bookstore the other day which has 100’s of “God” titles, I spotted a book upon whose spine was, ‘LORD JESUS CHRIST (Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity)’.

I was instantly excited because the name of Jesus is inexhaustibly wonderful (Eph 3:8).

I had to pause when someone sent me a Spurgeon quote the other day; “Jesus- a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity in five letters”. Is that how you want to feel and speak about Jesus and is this the sort of Church we want St Marks to be?

Shortly we will set up our ministry teams for 2018; what they achieve for the kingdom of God in Bassendean and beyond will totally depend on their naming God in the way he has named himself, the God and Father of our blessed Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:3; 2 Cor 1:2; 1 Pet 1:3 etc.). May it be our prayer to think and speak of God only in this way. 

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 11th February, 2018 | St Marks

Author: Dr. John Yates

MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 11th February. 2018 |       |

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Personal Matters

In recent weeks I have been praying consistently about the dreadful situation of fatherlessness permeating the spiritual atmosphere of Church and nation. (“Fathering” encompasses male and female.)

This issue confronts me regularly in ways like the following.

Encountering men who never seem to pray “Father”, visiting pastors who with grief remark that their senior denominational leaders never visit to show care as a father should, in listening to an Evangelical minister remark that churches have shut up Jesus in the gospel and separated him from his Father.

Surprisingly, in our Friday prayer time the Lord began to speak about these issues in a radical and sorrowful way.


In a time of crisis for Israel, “the LORD…could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” (Judges 10:16).

He was not impatient with his people, but impatient for them.

This is the God of whom it says, “In all their (Israel’s) affliction he was afflicted…” (Isa 63:9).

The same ethos is found in the New Testament. Speaking as a true spiritual father Paul says, “when I could bear it no longer I sent to learn about your faith…” (1 Thess 3:1, 5).

True spiritual fathering reveals itself in empathetic pain that cannot be passive about the afflictions of its children. Fatherhood is always moved to act and deliver.

Today the God and Father of Jesus aches unbearably to deliver his people, but scripture testifies to why this is not manifest; “they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit….Father to the fatherless…God sets the lonely in families. But he makes the rebellious live in a parched land.” (Isa 63:10).

God s a true Father, but for our rebellions we have been set in a spiritual desert. Deep down we are part of a people that is not merely angry with “God” but angry with God-as-a-Father. To the unspiritual this accusation sounds silly, but Christ’s words expose everything (1 Cor 2:14).

The Promise

I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, the Spirit of truth, to be with your forever…. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18).

The beauty of this promise is richly communicated through the life of any true spiritual father. “since we were torn away from you brothers (Greek: ‘orphaned’), for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavoured the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face” (1 Thess 2:17). With a father like this the Thessalonians were not overcome by any “orphan” spirit. But rare is the Church today whose bonds of love are this close.

The Orphanage

After several years The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse continues to interrogate the churches about their past history.

This is a prophetic sign not only of the pervasive nature of institutional abuse through the churches but that institutionalisation is abuse. Institutions are father-substitutes.

But in this world there is no such thing as a “father-substitute”.

If human beings gravitate to institutions because they provide a substitute for a family, church-as-institution is a substitute for spiritual family as God intended. This means that your local church is likely to be a spiritual orphanage.

Our nation has thousands of orphanages where God is not consulted, people rely on their own wisdom, they turn to motivational speakers, know nothing of godly discipline and so on (Heb 12:5-11).

The power of the institution as Father-substitute is so great that without a heavenly revelation of Fatherhood there can be no “breakout”. How did we get into this situation?

Orphans One and All

Satan is “the father of lies” and the root deception he sowed into the human heart “from the beginning” is that Creator-fatherhood is fatherhood without wrath (John 8:44). This is the great idol which entered the human heart in Eden and it has been nourished and cherished ever since (Rom Acts 17:29; Rom 1:22-23).

Common Christianity perpetuates this delusion that Fatherhood has nothing to punishment because almost no contemporary preacher speaks of God as Father and Judge with equal passion as one who cannot bear to see humanity orphaned (1 Pet 1:17).

We have lost insight into such things because we have turned away from discerning the cross.

Few contemplate that the ultimate orphaning in the universe was carried out in the power of the Spirit of God.

The parched place of the cross is Jesus’ death as in our place as rebel for whom God is no Father, ““why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34; John 19:28). Since “in Christ God was reconciling us to himself” we know that in Christ there is no angry Father (2 Cor 5:19).

If this is the substance of the gospel we all say we profess why is the Church so bound by an orphan spirit?

There is an answer to this and it is terrible. “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also” but “the antichrist…denies the Father-and-the-Son.” (1 John 2:22-23).

The spirit of antichrist seduced Eve and Adam into living as independent “stand alone” humans who renounced their sonship claiming they needed no Creator-Father. In the same way Satan subtly infiltrates the Church to present an image of a “stand alone Jesus”.

This Christ may still save, heal and deliver but he is not worshipped because he is the Son who alone leads to the Father (John 14:6). Our churches are orphanages because they worship an orphan Jesus!! We have achieved this by grieving the Spirit who unifies Father and Son; only this can explain why many say “Jesus” but never utter “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:14-16).

An Angry World

The world is full people who are angry at God because he seems to do nothing.

They are also angry at the Church because it images a “Father” too spineless to judge its own Reverend Fathers who have practiced child abuse, and many other sins.

To outsiders it seems like the little children have been punished in the place of the “men of God”.

Sadly, these denunciations have substance.

Whilst I cannot recall meeting anyone openly angry at the crucified Christ, at the heart level to treat the Son as if he had no Father must be an expression of such anger.

This is something that Father and Son find unbearable and to which they cannot be passive. The Spirit is surely planning a climactic revival.

Over the centuries the truths of justification, holiness, spiritual gifts etc. have been renewed; today we need a revival of the revelation of the Father, “from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Cor 8:6).

Just how might this happen?


It is the exalted Jesus who testifies of the intimacy he shares with us, “go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”” (John 20:17 cf. Matt 28:10).

Father, Son and Spirit ache to reveal so as to free us of the orphaned state which is a judgement on our rebellious humanity.

What can we do?

Carrying on with Church as we know it will change nothing.

We must begin with confessing the truth; we are living as orphans in an orphanage under the power of an orphan spirit.

We must not seek a revelation from God, but humbly acknowledge that he himself is the revelation we need.

By God’s grace he will bear our misery no longer and visit us from on high with his Spirit of adoption crying, “Abba! Father!” (Rom 8:16).


Author: Dr. John Yates

Remember Part 2: Jesus and his Father

Personal Matters

In the previous “Remember” I described overwhelming feelings of regret I experienced when on retreat in Kalbarri.

These regretful emotions were grounded in remembering past decisions/actions which I now judge to be wrong. They well up from a testimony my conscience gives against myself. This forces me to admit I have a problem much like Old Testament believers for whom the sacrificial system was a continual “reminder” of their sinfulness (Heb 10:1-3).

Scripture however spells out a way of escaping our condemning consciences (cf. 1 John 3:20). In the Bible’s thinking about intimacy with God “perfection” is not moral blamelessness but divine authorisation to approach God in worship; we “offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (Ex 29:9; Lev 4:5; 21:10; 1 Pet 2:5).

Christians do not strive for a blameless moral character in order to be able to approach God but enter into the rest which Christ has attained for us in his Father’s presence. Whenever we sense that “haven’t quite made it with God” we have forgotten to remember this rest (Heb 4:11).

For busy Christians to abide in such a spiritual rest will require a radical transformation in thinking about the Trinitarian love of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Anger THE Problem

That sin separates us from God is widely accepted; what is less understood is how God’s wrath removes people from his presence (Isa 59:2; Luke 12:5).

It was the Lord who drove the fallen Adam and Eve away from his glorious presence in Eden (Gen 3:22-24). This action of an angry God has imprinted on the consciences of lost people that none of their efforts can satisfy his just demands (Ps 7:11).

Let me apply this insight about divine anger to a puzzling contemporary issue called “phobia-isation”, most obvious in relation to homosexuality. Anyone disagreeing with homosexuality is guilty of “homophobia” i.e. hating gays.

That many gay advocates do feel hated by Christians is clear, but what is not so apparent is that this conviction is a state of mind to which they have been handed over by the wrath of God (Rom 1:28-32).

It is not particular sins, such as sexual immorality, that are the great obstacle between sinners and the Lord, but their deeply repressed hatred against a God whom they feel hates them (Ps 68:1; Rom 1:30; Col 1:21; Rev 6:16-17).

Underneath the wrathless deity of progressive Christianity, the naturally “angry God” of fundamentalism and the irate God who cannot exist of atheism is a deep spiritual confusion about divine wrath. This confusion can only be dispelled through the revelation of the Son of God.

Whilst on retreat I had a distinct insight into the nature of Trinitarian love which can help set us free from our confusions and fears about divine anger (1 John 4:8; 17-18).

The Wrathless Father

All humans have had profoundly traumatising experiences of anger.

Anger in all its forms, from frustration with a crying infant to the indignation of a judge sentencing a convicted person, creates a sense of relational separation. Anger always separates us from the pleasures of intimacy with others.

Thankfully, the God we worship is not like us.

If there was ever any anger in God the absolute intimate oneness in love of Father, Son and Spirit would be impossible (John 17:22-26). Lacking perfect access to one another the Persons of the Trinity would be divided. Jesus became a human being to show us what God is really like in himself.

As a sinless human person Jesus experienced the Father exactly as he had in eternity, wrathless. The purpose of Christ’s death was to impart to us this vision of an angerless Father (John 17:5).

When on the cross Jesus bore God’s wrath against our sin he became the place where in anger the Lord fully remembered our evil and so were fully separated from him. When God fully remembers our sin Jesus feels fully forgotten as a Son (Rom 3:25; 8:3; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Pet 2:24).

The terrible cry of dereliction from the cross can be paraphrased, “My God, my God, why have you forgotten me?”” (Mark 15:34). Jesus feels forgotten by the Father so we might never feel forgotten by the Lord.

But for this to impact our lives we must have our thinking refashioned by scripture (Rom 12:1-2).

Remember Jesus

The “remembering” of the Bible is vastly different from the notion of mere mental recollection.

In Hebraic thought to “remember” is to act. When God “remembered” Noah he blew away the waters of the flood, when he “remembered” his covenant with Abraham he delivered the Israelites from Egypt, and so on (Gen 8:1; Ex 2:24).

The new covenant’s promise “I will remember their sin no more” means there will be no judgement on sin (Jer 31:34). When Christ commands us “Do this…in remembrance of me” this does not mean we should strain our brains to recall how much Jesus means to us (1 Cor 11:25).

This divinely commanded remembrance takes us directly into the power of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. In the Spirit we are actually present in/with Jesus on the cross and at the emptying of his tomb. His triumphant “It is finished.” is by grace the cry of our hearts (John 19:30). Through divinely inspired remembrance we are united with Christ’s own work for us.

Let me use an illustration to clarify.

Praying over someone recently I sensed the Spirit taking me back into a revelation I had several years ago in Asia.

The presence of God in the here and now of Perth was just as real and strong as it was in that past time and faraway place. By the power of the Spirit the remembrances of God in Christ transcend space and time. Such Spirit-led remembrances are so powerful that we cannot remember Jesus and have regrets for past actions at the same time.

As the sinless Christ never had a sense of doing wrong or being under the wrath of God as his Father, by faith we can be free from all our past bondages. Sharing in the guilt-free conscience of Jesus I have perfect access to God in heaven (Rom 5:2; Eph 2:18 etc.). Why then regret things from the past?


The Lord once deeply regretted creating our humanity and angrily decimated the population of the earth (Gen 6:6ff).

But the Father has no regrets about electing and adopting us in his Son (Eph 1:3ff). In Christ I am never a wrong person trapped in regret, in Jesus I have always been a person in the right with God (Rom 5:1; 8:1).

Since by Christ’s blood and sacrifice my conscience is cleansed before God I have been “perfected for all time” (Heb 9:9, 14; 10:10). This does not mean moral blamelessness but worshipfully sharing in the complete access Father, Son and Spirit have to each other in love.

God has provided us with a simple means to grow in such a grace at the personal and corporate remembrance. (John 8:32-35).

Firstly, I can be bold enough to ask Jesus to remember me. The wicked thief who requested, ““Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”” was granted paradise (Luke 23:42-43; Rom 4:5). When Christ remembers me he will send his Spirit to connect me to the power of his saving work (Gen 8:1; Rev 1:10).

Beyond our private devotions the greatest gift I can give to my brother/sister in Christ is to continually remind her/him of Jesus (2 Tim 2:8; Heb 10:24-25).

At the centre of Christian community is the communication of Christ! As we personally and corporately remember Jesus we enter into the depths of the love Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for each other.

Here we find that God is perfectly at rest in himself and at rest with us; so then let us rest in him. No more regrets!

Anger & Compassion

Image of a Father (Heavenly) / Father (Earthly)

by Dr. John Yates


On the verge of Good Friday, I would like to read two stories about a father handing his child over to a shocking death of loneliness and abandonment, the first is very ancient and familiar; the second is one from our times.

Reading from the Gospel of Matthew, v45Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land  until the ninth hour. v46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” v47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, “This man is calling Elijah. v48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. v49 But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.v50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.” (Matt 27:45-50)

Reading from Independent Australia,[1] {hyperlink} 11 April, 2011 5:23 pm a piece titled:

Darcey Freeman, 4, killed in the name of her father

“When her own father, Arthur Phillip Freeman stopped his car on the West Gate Bridge that yawns over the river Yarra, and picked up his blonde-haired four year old daughter mercilessly chucking her over the railings to plunge a 58 lonely meters to her death, he surely condemned the child to endure a most hellish nightmare and ordeal for her last terrifying seconds on earth….


In those bewildering last moments before she hit that deep and dark water, she would have known in her suffocating fear that she had been betrayed and discarded by her Daddy.

He who should have been her defender; her champion. The one man who should have taken a hit for her.”  When Freeman was sentenced to 32 years last week, he showed no remorse in court, but launched into an angry attack on his ex-wife’s family.

Arthur Freeman was so shamed by his ex-wife and family that he was blinded by his rage to the meaning of fatherhood and became totally oblivious to the needs and pains of others.  Of course, many in Australia today think of the Christian portrayal of God in this way.[2]I have reasons to believe that our Prime Minister Julia Gillard is such a person. This comparison is not as ridiculous as it sounds. Whilst around half of the Australian population still describe themselves as “Christian”,[3] {Hyperlink} ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS 26 NOV 2010 most live as if there is not God.[4]Often described as “practical atheism” [cf. Ps 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’”.]

I was in a prayer meeting today where some of the men were praying to God as “Daddy”,[5]A common but mistaken interpretation of “Abba” [Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6]. which of course was Darvey Freeman’s way of talking to her dad. If the Father of Jesus is really a good daddy to us, why is there so much neglect amongst the people of God of the ways he has taught us to access his divine life. Why little or irregular reading of the Bible, struggles with prayer, minimal commitment to alleviating poverty, obliviousness to the plight of millions of persecuted believers around the world. All these are merely surface symptoms of a condition of the human heart.[6]Understood as the motivating centre of behaviour, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Prov 4:23].

The Bible has many disturbing texts (which is why we don’t read it), here is one I find particularly troublesome. “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself.” (Ps 50:21). As we can be silent concerning evil acts, we think God is like us and not too bothered either. This is the foundational sin of making God in our own image, the story of which begins in the Garden of Eden.

The Glory of God and the Shame of Man

In their closeness to the earth, the first humans were conscious of being formed from the dust of the ground and of having received the “breath of life”[7]Which is shared by the animals [Gen 1:30; 6:17; 7:15]. (Gen 2:7). In the middle of the beauty of Eden was a tree whose purpose was to remind Adam and Eve of their absolute dependence on God (Gen 2:9; 3:3). The possibility of death was held before their eyes by the clear command, ““the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”””(Gen 2:17). Prohibitions like this can be read in two ways, as a threat of punitive action to intimidate us into good behaviour, or as an opportunity to confirm and elevate our status as God’s beloved children.

Satan seduced Eve by deceiving her into believing that the threat of divine punishment was merely the stand over tactics of a bully. “v4You will not surely die. v5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:4-5). Satan suggests to Eve that by her own self action she can create a new kind of image of God in her own likeness and imagining (Gen 3:6) beyond the reach of her original Creator. Whoever chooses to know good and evil for themselves enters into a realm of self-conscious immortality. This temptation was the epitome of self-glorification and it has always proven overwhelming.

This whole scenario could have gone in a totally different direction motivated by a different wisdom and a different desire.[8]See, for example, James 3:13-18.  Scripture teaches with great soberness, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Prov 9:10).[9]Cf. Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; Prov 15:33; Mic 6:9 God did not expect Adam and Eve to fear being thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, something much deeper was at stake in his warning about death. In the fifth commandment we read, ““Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land” (Ex 20:12).

Honouring parents is a principle without exception because they are the ones who gave you life.

Adam and Eve were not called to fear the loss of the pleasures of the Garden, but the loss of the pleasure of drawing their life from God. Those who lack godly always commit the following sin. A pained God speaks to a rebellious Israel, ““A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honour? And if I am a master, where is my fear?”  (Mal 1:6). From the beginning, human beings have refused to honour God (Rom 1:21. Cf. John 8:44). This is a sin of infinite proportions. Made in the image of God as his sons (Luke 3:38), when Adam and Eve (who symbolise all of us) wanted the inheritance of creation without the fellowship of the Creator they committed the crime of decide (Ex 20:5 Deut 32:43; Rom 1:30), they wanted God dead.[10]This is the real sin of the prodigal son, in wanting the share of his father’s inheritance whilst the patriarch is alive, he makes it clear that he wishes he were already dead [Luke 15:12].

In dishonouring God Adam and Eve were startled to find that something terrible had happened to them, they had lost what the Bible calls “the weight of glory (2 Cor 4:17 cf. Rom 3:23).

The sense of immeasurable dignity that belongs to being in the eternal family of God[11]Cf. “his eternal power and divine name” [Rom 1:20] had seemingly vanished forever. Knowing good and evil for themselves (Gen 3:22), they recognised they were fully responsible for destroying the honour with which God had created them, stripped of God’s glory they were filled with an undying sense of shame.[12]In Genesis 3:22 “the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil”. I take it this means that the human sense of responsibility is as  absolute  as … Continue reading This was intolerable and in self-consciousness of their newly discovered weakened state[13]Nakedness means exposure and weakness. they immediately covered themselves with fig leaves and hid themselves from the presence of God (Gen 3:7-10).

We may be tempted to ask, if the human situation is as tragic as this, why don’t we all, starting with our first Fallen ancestors, flee to the presence of God. The answer to this is as simple as it is dreadful, if in your heart you have killed every aspect of trust in the goodness of your Creator,[14]What it means to be dead in sin [Rom 8:10; Eph 2:1]. then you cannot believe in his compassion and forgiveness. Shame is not simply emptiness; it is in its deepest core self-generated Fatherlessness. Shame is one of the deepest and most indelible of all human emotions and controls the great mass of human behaviour, from fashion to Facebook.

Humans are constantly controlled by feelings of inferiority, feeling less than others in the realm of beauty, intelligence, wealth, social standing, sporting ability, personality, spirituality and so on.

(I used to hate it, and rather rudely refuse to play the game when I used to go to pastors conference and everybody would ask the question, “How big is your church?”)

The root problem generating all these destructive comparisons[15]“Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they … Continue reading is not something called “low self-esteem” but an abiding and ineffaceable sense that we are less than we are meant to be in the image of God. The common idols and ambitions of life – the successful career, the flawless family, the glamorous partner, the powerful ministry… are all substitutes for the glory of God and an attempt to fill the gap between who we are and who we know we should be.

Human self-consciousness is filled with repeated attempts to achieve self-glorification[16]Which includes glorification through the eyes of others [John 5:44]. which are doomed to fail because the honour we seek from men is not only inferior to the honour from the one true God[17]How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” [John 5:44] but is highly conditional. We are not simply passively shamed however; the problem goes to another level.

The Angry Man

I was listening to the radio recently and a forensic psychiatrist who works in prisons was saying every violent person has a history of being dishonored /shamed from early life.

In conversation with a range of people, including addict and violent offenders, the stories they share about their early life situations are so terribly tragic that all you can say is, “If that sort of abuse had happened to me I would have taken the same road too.” But why are destructive human responses so predictable – why for example don’t we refuse to strike back?

This is not a psychological question, or even a moral question, but a theological question.

At this level, at the foundational level of our corrupted humanity we are directed back to the origin of human violence.

The famous story of the murder of Abel by Cain begins this way.

v4 And the Lord received Abel and his offering with favour, v5 but Cain and his offering he did not receive. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell. v6 The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? v7 If you do well, will you not be accepted?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Gen 4:3ff.)

Cain felt rejected by God and envied God’s pleasure in his brother (Heb 11:4, 6).

Yet his own spirit was not acceptable to the LORD, for he showed no sign of understanding that he was created to enjoy drawing his life from God.

Feeling dishonoured by God and ignoring the caring divine warning about sin’s power (cf. Gen 2:17), Cain lost sight of everything but his own ego need for approval and spiraled out of control in a way that has become characteristic of the history of humanity. The story ends with an echo of the fate of Adam and Eve, “Then Cain went away from the presence of the Lord” (Gen 4: 16 cf. Gen 3:24). This is still the condition of the mass of humanity, and until Jesus deals with our shame we can expect conflict in the world.

Having been in the Middle East recently it is very clear how the Muslim peoples of the world feel shamed by the Israeli possession of Palestine, people feel shamed about the condition of their own lives and degenerate into self-condemnation or turn their frustrations out on others. As I was walking in the street this morning an angry aboriginal youth on a bike went passed – there is a culture whose explosive crime rates mirror deep racial shame. Or, to put it in context with this talk, as another indigenous person said, “You see all these young men walking the streets of Belmont, not one of them has a father.”

The self-critical statements of Christians about their own lack of prayer, bible knowledge or spiritual growth shows a dislike of self which is on the same scale of self-loathing.

Arthur Phillip Freeman felt shamed by his wife and her family and in each case terrible violence broke out.

Where is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of all this? Hear the cry of the faithful concerning this disastrous state of affairs, “v15 Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The stirring of your inner parts and your compassion are held back from me.v16 For you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us, and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.(Isa 63:15-16; Hos 13:14).

Just why does God our Father’s compassion seem to be held back from us?

God’s Compassion for the Weak

I was speaking recently with a man who came to talk about the repeated struggles he had in getting along with church leaders. At one point he spoke appealingly, “I come from a position of weakness, I have no strength.” He was referring to the fact that he has a long history of mental illness, including extensive periods of hospitalisation, lives on a pension and has never had a position of authority in a congregation.

When I said to him, “You are an angry man, whenever you get angry with other people you do not come across from a position of but as though you had a position of strength, that’s how people experience anger”. Suddenly he paused, and wanted to pray.

Our strength, whether of emotion, intellect, resource, gifting or anything else puts us outside the experience of the compassionate healing power of God. Our Lord cannot identify with the powerful but only with the weak.

That God honours those who are weak with his compassionate presence is deeply embedded in scripture.

The Old Testament proclaims the fatherly compassion of God as transparently as the New, v9He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. v10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. v11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; v12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. v13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.v14 For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.(Ps 103:9-14).[18]Cf. “v38 Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. v39 He remembered that they were but … Continue reading

God’s compassion is supremely powerful because when strength identifies with our weakness he honours us in a way that removes shame. Jesus honoured the people of the land by living and ministering in their midst. It was in the authority of the Father’s compassion that Christ fed the hungry, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead and preached good news to the poor – all of which were radically weak and needy persons (Matt 9:35-36; Matt 14:13-21; Matt 15:32-39; Mark 9:22-27; Luke 7:13-14).

If we are not actually experiencing Jesus’ compassion like those in the Gospel stories we must have placed ourselves outside the community of their acknowledged weakness. Shockingly, this would place us in the company of the religiously strong of Christ’s day, the scribes and Pharisees Two of Jesus’ most famous parables were told against this group. One is the story of a Samaritan[19]In the orthodox theology of the day Samaritans were heretics. who, unlike the priest and Levite in the tale, “had compassion (Luke 10:33) on a “half dead” man.

The highlight of what we call the “Parable of the Prodigal Son” describes how when the repentant rebel “was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20). The older brother, who represents the religious authorities in Israel, remains outside the experience of the father’s heart because he refuses to forgive his brother from the heart (Matt 18:34-35). There is nothing quite so personally dis-empowering that seeking and giving forgiveness.

Jesus taught on this matter with supreme clarity, “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”” (Mark 11:25).[20]Cf. “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” [Matt 6:11]
If God honours us in our shame by forgiving us, we ought to honour God by doing likewise for others. Those who are too strong to acknowledge their need to forgive simply will not experience forgiveness from God. The circle of forgiveness always invites the Lord’s compassionate presence. As recently as yesterday, I had to warn a believer that that the first principle of wisdom in the fear of the Lord is to forgive others.[21]Cf. “v3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? v4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” [Ps 130:3-4].

If we don’t we get this it must be because we think that God himself is a reluctant forgiver[22]““he who is forgiven little, loves little.”” [Luke 7:47] or even less sensitive to human need than we are. Of course no “Christian” will freely admit this.

The problem that most of us still have is that we seem to rarely be able to get in touch with the compassionate beating heart of Jesus because we are still too strong. To get to the root of matter bluntly, we do not believe that God understands our condition because we do not understand his condition. Martin Luther once said, “The cross is the test of everything.” (Crux probat omnia), only the cross can show us the divine condition.

Anger and Shame in the Cross

As Jesus approaches the cross through the Garden of Gethsemane, he is overcome by an all consuming fear, ““v34 My soul is very sorrowful, even to death….v35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. v36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”” (Mark 14:34, 36).

To quote Luther again, “No man ever feared like this man.” Have you ever been afraid? Once upon a time I lived every day in a fear so pervasive I could not walk down a public street, and I clearly remember being possessed by a dread that was physically paralysing. Fear can be that powerful and it can make you feel irreducibly weak.

Jesus’ fear however was wholly unlike that of Adam, Adam sinned and feared the punishment of a God who was to him a stranger. Jesus never sinned (Heb 4:15) and feared the loss of intimacy with his Father. It is Jesus knowledge of God as his Father that makes his experience of the cross so paradoxical, he knew exactly what it meant for “the cup” that was set before him to be the cup of the divine anger.[23]Ps 11:6; Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15, 17; Ezek 23:31-33

As a sinless man Jesus was a shameless man (John 8:49) who never once felt a gap of inferiority between who he was and who God had created him to be. All of this was about to change.

Darcey Freeman, the child of a shamed and anger filled father fell a lonely 58 metres to her death as a child condemned “to endure a most hellish nightmare”, but when“ “Jesus cried with a loud voice, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””, the Son of a Holy Father fell all the way into the utter eternal aloneness of hell itself .[24]This is, for example, Calvin’s interpretation of the Apostle’s Creed, “He descended into hell.”

In such a hell Jesus feels, not simply that he does not know God, but far more severely, that he is not known by God (1 Cor 8:3 Gal 4:9 cf. Gen 22:12). Loneliness is a terrible experience, but it was an essential one for Jesus to share in order to redeem the world in all of its shame and weakness.

Christ’s suffering is however no passive thing. When, ““Jesus cried with a loud voice, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”” (Mark 15:34) he was reversing the whole history of humanity’s relationship with the Creator-Father. The psalmist says, “Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you?(Ps 90:11).[25]Cf. ““A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honour? And if I am a master, where is my fear?” [Mal 1:6] No sinful flesh has ever laid to heart the intensity of God’s wrath against evil so as to fear him with a reverence that is his due.

No one, until Jesus, has ever taken the loss of God’s Fatherly presence with full seriousness or felt acutely enough the loss of pleasure in drawing life from God. This is how we have dishonoured him and fallen away from his glory, and how in Christ all is recovered. In the midst of his experience of totalised human weakness, struggle and death at an extremity exceeding all others, Jesus offered up something to God that humanity from Adam on had never offered[26]E.g. “although they knew God, they did not honour him as God” [Rom 1:21]  and that the Father had always longed for, “reverent submission/godly fear”(Heb 5:7). He honoured God as his Father by perfect submissive obedience.

It could not be that he cross was the end, it marks a new beginning, ““v15 For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contritev16 For I will not contend forever, nor will I always be angry; for the spirit would grow faint before me, and the breath of life that I made.”” (Isa 57:15-16)

It could not be that the Holy One could overlook the contrite and lowly spirit of his Son, he has restored his spirit and he has revived his heart. In the transformation of the dust of Christ’s earthly body into the glorified resurrection body at the right hand of God, and in filling the breath of his human life with the Holy Spirit, all judgment has been taken away. In Christ there is no longer any cause for shame, and heaven is open to all who would come to him in weakness to receive his Father’s resurrection power.

The Fruit of Shamelessness

Jesus weeping in Gethsemane and crying out in prayer upon the cross redefines the meaning of strength and weakness[27]For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” [1 Cor 1:25]. and restores to us godly shamelessness.

Jesus left us a parable about persistent prayer for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, at the centre of this story is a friend who lacking bread comes to a neighbour at midnight for supplies, “I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of is shamelessness he will rise and give him whatever he needs. (Luke 11:8).

To share in what looks like shameful weakness to outsiders, such as pleading with God for the supply of his Spirit, is actually a sharing in the weakness of Christ from the cross and the key to manifesting the compassionate healing power of God. With the shameless anything is possible with God.

Paul could say, “v8 We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; v9 as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; v10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor 6:8-10).

George Whitfield was perhaps the greatest English speaking preacher of all time who drew up to 20,000 people at a time at his open air meetings.

There were many acts of violence against him, and at least once attempt on his life. An outstanding characteristic of his preaching was that every time he spoke he wept. Whitefield had reached a point in his life where he knew that unless Christ shared visible demonstrations of crucified brokenness no “strong” person’s life would be weakened by his compassion.

Once he was approached after his meeting was finished by a chastened looking young man who said, “I came here with rocks in my pocket to break your head, but your tears broke my heart.


In conclusion, what do the stories of Jesus and his Father and Darcey Freeman and her father have in common. Reading the newspaper accounts and blogs of this innocent little girl’s death many people unashamedly and compassionately identified with the tragedy and freely spoke of their tears.

I wonder how many will weep this coming Good Friday when they hear the story of the crucifixion of the Son of God afresh.

Arthur Freeman murdered his daughter because he had lost the pleasure of giving her life and giving into her life so that his heart was filled with anger.

God the Creator-Father has never lost the pleasure of giving us all life[28]Cf. Paul’s appeals to pagans in Acts 13; 17 that extol the divine Creator’s generosity. and always wants to give us more, forever.

What then about the anger or wrath of this Father?

It has been wisely said, “For us, anger brings pain, but for God anger is pain.”[29]And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” [Gen 6:4]

Good Friday is a time to weep tears, not for Jesus who has been raised from the dead, but for those whose lives show they have still to receive the revelation that the broken and tormented body of Christ is the visible compassion of the Father, and the sign of the removal of all our shame.

The revelation that the God of Jesus is no “Angry Father” is yet to fall upon us.


1 {hyperlink} 11 April, 2011 5:23 pm
2 I have reasons to believe that our Prime Minister Julia Gillard is such a person.
3 {Hyperlink} ABC RELIGION AND ETHICS 26 NOV 2010
4 Often described as “practical atheism” [cf. Ps 14:1, “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God’”.]
5 A common but mistaken interpretation of “Abba” [Mark 14:36; Rom 8:15; Gal 4:6].
6 Understood as the motivating centre of behaviour, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” [Prov 4:23].
7 Which is shared by the animals [Gen 1:30; 6:17; 7:15].
8 See, for example, James 3:13-18.
9 Cf. Job 28:28; Ps 111:10; Prov 1:7; Prov 15:33; Mic 6:9
10 This is the real sin of the prodigal son, in wanting the share of his father’s inheritance whilst the patriarch is alive, he makes it clear that he wishes he were already dead [Luke 15:12].
11 Cf. “his eternal power and divine name” [Rom 1:20]
12 In Genesis 3:22 “the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil”. I take it this means that the human sense of responsibility is as  absolute  as God’s.
13 Nakedness means exposure and weakness.
14 What it means to be dead in sin [Rom 8:10; Eph 2:1].
15 Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding.” [2 Cor 10:12]
16 Which includes glorification through the eyes of others [John 5:44].
17 How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” [John 5:44]
18 Cf. “v38 Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath. v39 He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.” [Ps 78:38-39].
19 In the orthodox theology of the day Samaritans were heretics.
20 Cf. “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” [Matt 6:11]
21 Cf. “v3 If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? v4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” [Ps 130:3-4].
22 ““he who is forgiven little, loves little.”” [Luke 7:47]
23 Ps 11:6; Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15, 17; Ezek 23:31-33
24 This is, for example, Calvin’s interpretation of the Apostle’s Creed, “He descended into hell.”
25 Cf. ““A son honours his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honour? And if I am a master, where is my fear?” [Mal 1:6]
26 E.g. “although they knew God, they did not honour him as God” [Rom 1:21]
27 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” [1 Cor 1:25].
28 Cf. Paul’s appeals to pagans in Acts 13; 17 that extol the divine Creator’s generosity.
29 And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain” [Gen 6:4]