Our Father who art in heaven.

by K.W. Leslie, 21 September

Matthew 6.9-10.

The Lord’s Prayer in Matthew begins with πάτερ ἡμῶν ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς/páter imón o en toís uranoís, “our Father who’s [located] in the heavens,” Mt 6.9 ’cause we’re addressing—duh—our heavenly Father.

Matthew 6.9 KWL
“So pray like this: Our Father who’s in the heavens! Sanctify your name.”

Some Christians wanna make it particularly clear which god we’re praying to. Partly because some of ’em actually think they might accidentally invoke the wrong god (and y’know, if they’re Mammonists or some other type of idolater, they might). Sometimes because they’re showing off to pagans that they worship the Father of Jesus, or some other form of hypocrisy. But Jesus would have us keep it simple: Just address our heavenly Father. There’s no special formula for addressing him; no secret password we’ve gotta say; even “in Jesus’s name” isn’t a magic spell—and you notice “in Jesus’s name” isn’t in the Lord’s Prayer either. You know who he is; he knows who he is; he knows what our relationship consists of; that’s fine.

As I said in the Lord’s Prayer article, Jesus isn’t the first to teach people God is our Father. Many a Pharisee prayer, and many Jewish prayers nowadays, address God as אָבִינוּ/avínu, “our Father”—like Avínu Malkéinu (“our Father, our king”), recited during fasts and the high holidays. If we have a relationship with him, and we should through Jesus, we should have no hesitation to approach him boldly. He 4.16 He loves us; he wants to be gracious to us; let’s feel free to talk with him about anything and everything.

God’s will in heaven and earth.

Jesus instructs us to pray,

Matthew 6.10 KWL
“Make your kingdom come. Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.”

The Book of Common Prayer has “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The KJV has “thy will be done in earth, as [it is] in heaven.” Christians tend to interpret it to mean, “As in heaven, so on earth.” We assume heaven already follows God’s will, so we’re praying that earth do likewise. (That is, unless we’re deterministic and imagine earth already obeys God’s sovereign will.)

Thing is, we’re reading an awful lot into that word ὡς/os, which we translate “as.” We never bother to ask the fairly obvious, hidden-in-plain-sight question: Does God absolutely get his way in heaven?

“Of course he does,” is the knee-jerk reaction. If God gets his way anywhere, certainly it’s in heaven. Because God’s the absolute ruler of heaven. Either it’s where his throne is, Ps 11.4, Rv 4.2 or heaven itself is his throne, Is 66.1, Mt 5.34 with all the armies of heaven ready to carry out God’s commands. 1Ki 22.19 We imagine God’s kingdom already exists there. The issue for us Christians is bringing this kingdom to earth. That’s why we pray, “As in heaven, so on earth.”

Thing is, if heaven’s where God absolutely, sovereignly always gets his way, why’d a war break out there?

Revelation 12.7-9 KWL
7 War came to the heavens: Michael and its angels battling the dragon;
the dragon and its angels battling back 8 and failing.
No place was found for them anymore in the heavens.
9 The great dragon was thrown out, the primeval serpent which is called devil and Satan.
The deceiver of all civilization was thrown to earth,
and its angels were thrown out with it.

We assume God always gets his way in heaven, but at some point in heavenly history he clearly didn’t. ’Cause Satan defied him. Just as Adam and Eve disobeyed him on earth, Satan challenged God’s will in heaven. Just as Adam and Eve had to be banned from paradise, Michael had to chuck the devil, and a whole lot of its confederate angels, out of heaven.

Y’see, since God is love, 1Jn 4.8 he wants to love his creation, and wants his creation to love him back. If beings lack free will, they can’t love. They can say they love, just as I can program my phone to say “I love you” as its ringtone, but involuntary behavior isn’t love. In order to get actual love, God had to take the massive risk of imbuing his creatures with free will. That’s not just his creatures here on earth. It includes all his creatures in heaven.

Satan’s very existence indicates not just earth has a sin problem. Heaven has one too. And heaven needs to be fixed just as much as earth.

New Heaven.

Hopefully you’ve read Revelation’s happy ending:

Revelation 21.1-4 KWL
1 I saw New Heaven and New Earth:
The first heaven and first earth went away, and the sea isn’t there.
2 I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven, from God.
It’d been prepared like a bride was arranged for her man.
3 I heard a great voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s tent with the people:
He’ll pitch a tent with them. They’ll be his people, and he’s ‘God with them,’ their God.
4 He’ll plaster over every teardrop from their eyes.
Death isn’t there. Neither grief, shouting, nor toil is there. The first things went away.”

Have you ever noticed the scriptures’ various statements about New Heaven? How, at the End, God’s gonna wipe away the existing heavens, and make them new too? Is 65.17, 2Pe 3.13 Now, if heaven’s already perfect, why would God do such a thing? He certainly wouldn’t need to. Destruction for its own sake? That’s entirely unlike God.

Used to strike me as weird too. That is, till I realized heaven’s not perfect. That’s why Jesus has his followers pray, “Make your will happen both in heaven and on earth.” Both places need fixing—and to be made one, so God can live in New Jerusalem with his people forever.

Jesus hasn’t gone to heaven where things are shiny and perfect, and is just waiting for just the right time to roll ’em out to us. He went there to prepare a place for us. Jn 14.2-3 It wasn’t already there. It needed building. Arguably he’s still building it. Popular culture imagines him taking us to it when we die; Revelation describes him bringing New Jerusalem to New Earth, to us. Either way.

So when we’re praying for God’s will to be done in heaven and on earth, we’re praying for God’s kingdom in this world… and we’re praying for God’s kingdom on New Heaven. We’re praying for the present and the future. We’re praying the kingdom at the End is as perfect, as full, as God wants it to be. Since he wants to save everybody, 1Ti 2.4 we’re praying as many as possible get in!

Yep, our prayers affect the construction of New Heaven. Because these prayers change our attitudes. Change how we’re gonna think about God’s kingdom. Change how we’re gonna contribute to his kingdom. Make it not just his kingdom, but our kingdom.

If we want New Jerusalem filled, we’re gonna participate in its filling. We’re gonna invite more people into the kingdom. We’re gonna share Jesus with more people. We’re gonna include more people in our kingdom activities. We’re gonna make more disciples for Jesus. We’re gonna strive to actually do God’s will. New Heaven begins with what we’re doing here on earth.

We mustn’t just passively pray, “Thy will be done.” We gotta do God’s will, and go get New Heaven some future inhabitants.

So keep praying this.