23rd January 2024
'Teresa White FCJ considers'
When Christians ascribe to Jesus the four familiar titles from Isaiah 9:6 - 'Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace' - the one that might seem out of place is 'Everlasting Father': isn't Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son?
Some years ago, walking by the sea one evening, I saw three striking sand models lying side by side on the beach: a huge shark, an elegant woman with seaweed hair and a man sitting on a throne.
Aware that the sea was rapidly moving nearer as the tide came in, I pondered their forthcoming natural but inevitable obliteration.
All of a sudden, a tiny girl appeared at my side. 'My daddy made them,' she said, bursting with pride. 'But soon the tide will wash them away.'
She ran as near as she could to the models - a clear case of reflected glory - then she disappeared as fast as she had come.
Minutes later, two teenage boys carrying cricket bats ran up to the models and they battered them in seconds.
Once again, a pink whirlwind sped past me, ignoring me this time.
Miniscule and furious, she stood in front of the boys, tears streaming down her face.
'Don't do that! You mustn't do that!' she wailed. 'My daddy made them.'
It was too late. The models were already destroyed...
The child's father must have been watching, for he came quickly forward, swept his little daughter into his arms and hugged her warmly.
As they moved away together, I heard him gently reassuring her that he'd make more models in the morning.
Reflecting on this incident afterwards, I realised it had touched me deeply.
The father, exhibits some of the enduring qualities of fatherhood which Christians attribute to God.
Is it fanciful to suggest that this father is in some sense an image, a reflection, of the 'Everlasting Father' of chapter 9, verse 6 of Isaiah's prophecy?
All the Hebrew prophets speak first to their contemporaries, and in the proximate sense, Isaiah is referring here to the king of his own times, Ahaz, and appears to be conferring these titles on the recently born royal son, Hezekiah: 'For there is a child born for us...'
Hezekiah began to reign about 720 BC and, influenced by Isaiah, he tried to set his people, religiously speaking, on a fresh course and to make law and justice a reality in his kingdom.
Nevertheless, Isaiah did not find in Hezekiah, a truly messianic king.
The prophetic vision, however, embraces past, present and future, and Isaiah's declaration relates also to the ideal king, Emmanuel, who would be God's instrument and offer hope of a universal deliverance by reversing the injustice and corruption of the kings of the past.
To call God 'Everlasting Father' is to proclaim God's perennial care for his people, his love and compassion and forgiveness.
Yet the Son being named as Father is ostensibly confusing for us.
Jesus's designation, as the second Person of the Trinity, is not Father, but Son.
Jesus was sent by the Father, comes from him and, at his Ascension, goes to him.
The Father anoints the Son, and commits all judgment to him.
So in what sense may this appellation of 'Everlasting Father' be applied to Jesus the Christ?
For Christians, the Messiah-King is Jesus, who is a Father with respect to those who are adopted into the family of his followers and who, generation after generation, are renewed by his Spirit and grace: to these he is an 'everlasting Father'.
Jesus is, as he himself says, 'I came in the name of my Father' and 'I and the Father are one'.
For Christians, the Messiah, Jesus, is the 'Everlasting Father'
(the Douay/Rheims version translates this title as 'the Father of the world to come'),
and is the One who is Sovereign Lord over the ever-changing years - he produces and directs eternity, he will reign for ever.
In the story at the beginning of this article, an anonymous human father is seen to reflect in a humble, everyday way some of the qualities we attribute to God.
He reminds us that the Everlasting Father not only rules his people, but watches over them in love, heals them, comforts them.
Christian theology has always insisted on the essential 'unnameability' of God, maintaining that God is beyond all names and words, beyond human gender classifications, in a way that would not have been the case for Isaiah.
Un-edited version, (MUCH MORE) available on request
Sister Teresa White
belongs to the 'Faithful Companions of Jesus'.
A former teacher, she spent many years in the ministry of spirituality at Katherine House, a retreat and conference centre run by her congregation in Salford.
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