Who’s in Charge Here? “I Believe in God the Father Almighty”
January 25, 2004 | Ray Pritchard
All week long I’ve been thinking about the phrase “Father Almighty” and trying to decide what it really means. It’s a fascinating question because the Apostles’ Creed compresses the entire nature of God into just two words—”Father Almighty.” The framers of the Creed were telling us that if we comprehend the meaning of those two words, we will know who God is. The challenge is made greater because the phrase “Father Almighty” combines two words that don’t normally go together. Father goes in one direction, and Almighty goes in another. One of the common Greek words for Father is Abba, a very intimate term that means something like, “Dear father” or “Papa.” We might use the word “Daddy” today. The word “Almighty” in the Old Testament translates the Hebrew word shaddai, as in El Shaddai, “Almighty God.” That name for God first appears in Genesis 17 when God informs Abram (who is 99 years old) that a year later, his wife Sarai (her name was later changed to Sarah) will give birth to a son. The very thought seems so absurd that Abram (whose name God changed to Abraham—”Father of Many Nations”) laughed out loud. The Lord guaranteed the promise with his name—El Shaddai, the Lord Almighty. If we go all the way to the last book of the Bible, we find the name “Almighty” appearing several times. Revelation 1:8 is a typical example: “‘I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.’”
So you have two words put together in the Apostles’ Creed that summarize who God is—one is intimate and personal, the other speaks of his unlimited power. To call him “Father” means that he is a personal God who cares about me. To call him “Almighty” means that he is able to do whatever needs to be done. There are no limits with him.
The Man From Mississippi
I thought about that concept of God all week long, and wondered what it really meant, and how I could convey it to you. In the middle of the week a new thought came to me suddenly, and when it did, I had a revelation: My dad was a “father almighty” to me. His story starts on a farm a few miles outside of Oxford, Mississippi. As a boy growing up on the farm, he learned how to hunt and fish and he knew all about planting cotton and taking care of the horses and the cattle. He was a teenager during the Depression years when things were tough in Mississippi. He learned the value of hard work and the importance of saving every penny. After high school, he went off to college and then to the first two years of medical school. World War II intervened and he became an Army doctor serving in Nome, Alaska. That’s where he met my mother, an Army nurse. After the war, they got married, he graduated from Northwestern University Medical School, and they moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where my older brother Andy and I were born. Later he moved to Russellville, Alabama, to take up the medical practice started by his brother Clarence, my namesake, who died in 1954 of a brain hemorrhage. That’s how I grew up in a small town in Alabama. And that’s where my dad lived until he died in 1974. We buried him on a hillside not far from his brother.
My dad came from another generation and followed another set of values. He always wore a coat and tie, he treated people with respect, he believed in good manners, and he didn’t think children should talk back to their parents. On that point, my father might be called old-fashioned. We never had debates about corporal punishment in our house. There was nothing to debate. Talk back or disobey and the punishment would be swift. I can still remember a few times when Mom would become so exasperated that she would call him home from the clinic in the afternoon. That’s when we (my brothers and I) knew we had gone too far. “Please don’t call Dad,” we would say. But our pleas went unheeded. If he had to come home to discipline us, he would make sure it wasn’t a wasted trip.
But there is more to the story. Dad built a basketball goal in our back yard—and occasionally shot baskets with us. He took us with him when he made house calls to homes in rural Franklin County. He would sing “The Donut Song” and a song about a cow on the railroad tracks. To keep us occupied on long trips, he taught us how to play “Cow Poker,” which isn’t as exotic as it sounds. And we learned to love the Ole Miss Rebels because he took us to watch them play football 40 years ago. He was big on education. There was never any question that we were going to go to college. I remember during my high school years he would often come home late from the hospital. If he found us doing our homework, he would give us a quarter. I think I made 75 cents that way.
An “Old School” Father
And he was “old school” in another way. Fathers of today often try to be buddies and pals to their children. They want to come down to their children’s level and be best friends with them. My dad would have been mystified by that approach. Parents are parents, kids are kids, and the world works best when we all remember where we belong. Dad didn’t come to my parties—and I didn’t go to his. He knew my friends, and they all said, “Hello, Dr. Pritchard,” when they saw him. Sometimes he would stop and chat for a moment—but only for a moment. Dad was not my best friend—he was my father. And there is a huge difference.
My father and I had a difficult relationship during my teenage years. He didn’t understand me very well, and I didn’t appreciate him as I should have. We had words on more than one occasion, and I said some things that weren’t very smart. Dad let me know what he thought in no uncertain terms. The strain lasted into my college years when I began feeling the call into the ministry. I was young, immature, brash, a little cocky, and I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. When I spoke of being a preacher, my dad made funny remarks, little quips that didn’t seem funny to me. But looking back, I see that he knew me better than I knew myself. With the wisdom that only a father can have, he saw that my life was shallow, that I lacked the character necessary to be a pastor or a preacher. He never said it that way, but that’s what he meant. He knew that unless my life changed, I would not succeed. In 1972 I attended a seminar where I heard for the very first time about the importance of a clean conscience. The speaker said we couldn’t be free to move forward until we asked forgiveness of those we had hurt. When he said that, I knew I had to go talk to my dad. That wasn’t an easy thing to do because he was my father and I was his son, and talking like that didn’t come easy. But one night—I can see in it my mind’s eye—he was in his study at home and I came in to see him. He was sitting at his desk catching up on some paperwork for the hospital, but he stopped what he was doing. I stammered out something to the effect that I knew I had made a lot of mistakes and I knew I had hurt him and Mom by some of the things I had done and I wanted him to know I was sorry for everything. He looked at me for a moment, and then he said, “That’s all right, son.” That was it. If he said anything else, I don’t recall it, but I don’t think he did. Men of his generation seldom talked about their feelings. He didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t have to. When my father said, “It’s all right, son,” I knew it was all right and that I was forgiven.
Joshua Tyrus Pritchard
The next year Marlene and I got engaged, we graduated from college, and in June told my parents in Alabama that we wanted to get married in Phoenix in August—six weeks later. Mom gasped, Dad smiled. He was the best man at my wedding. I’m glad he met Marlene because he knew then that I was bound to turn out okay. Dad died a little over two months after we were married. It’s still hard for me believe it 30 years later. He was so healthy, then he was sick for two weeks, and then he was gone. One moment remains in my mind. After the funeral, Marlene and I were driving from Alabama back to Dallas where I was a first-year seminary student. Somewhere just across the Mississippi border I began to cry. I was driving and crying and I told Marlene a secret I had never shared with anyone. For a long time I had dreamed of having a son and naming him after my father. I wept because my father did not live to see it happen. Five years later our first son was born. We named him Joshua Tyrus, after my father, Tyrus Pritchard.
After he died, it took me a while to see my father properly. Always he had been there whenever I needed him. Always he could answer any question. Always he could solve any problem. After he died, the world stopped being a safe place for me—and it’s never seemed really safe again. I loved him, and I respected him, and I feared him, and I wanted him to be pleased with me. I still miss him 30 years later. He was a “father almighty” to me.
Standing in the Place of God
It may seem that I have taken too much time in this sermon to talk about my father—especially since no one here except Marlene ever knew him. But I think I am on good biblical footing this morning. For a long time we have known that parents stand in the place of God for their children. Parents are not God, but we learn something about God (for better or for worse) from our parents. When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he told them to start their prayers this way, “Our Father in heaven.” Jesus himself compared earthly fathers with our Heavenly Father. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:9-11). It is a father’s joy and his duty and his honor to give to his children what they truly need. Fathers give good gifts to their children. My father did that for me. I try to do that for my children. But I am sinner, and my father was a sinner. I am not perfect, my father was not perfect. There is only one perfect Father—our Father in heaven. He will do all that an earthly father will do—and much more besides. Let me offer one other passage for us to consider. This one comes from Malachi 1:6 where God declares, “‘A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?’ says the Lord Almighty.” This is one of the few places in the Bible where you find God as Father and God as Almighty in the same verse. If we believe in God as the “Father Almighty,” then we owe him respect and honor.
Let me put these two concepts together so we can see them clearly:
He is Almighty: He can do anything he wants to do.
He is our Father: He will do all that is necessary for our well-being.
He is Almighty: He can!
He is our Father: He will!
To call him the Father Almighty means that we can trust him in every circumstance because he will do whatever needs to be done to take care of us. Romans 8:31-32 expresses this truth beautifully: “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” What is the limit of the “all things” in verse 32? Answer: There is no limit. Whatever we truly need, our Father will make sure that we have it because he is the “Father Almighty.” His name is El Shaddai—Almighty God.
This week I read Isaiah 40 and marveled at the wonderful promise that comes at the end of the chapter. As I read it, I want you to notice that the promise of strength for the weary is based squarely on who God is: “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (Isaiah 40:28-31). I love those two questions at the beginning: “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” Isaiah is asking, “Don’t you know your own God?” I know who he is: He’s the Father Almighty. That’s the God I believe in.
“I Win No Matter What!”
When you know the Father Almighty, you have strength and courage to face the worst life can throw your way. This week I received an e-mail from a man in Pennsylvania who read my book, The God You Can Trust. This is what he has to say:
As I write this I am suffering from Stage 4 Liver Cancer. I found out 3 weeks ago and at the present it is inoperable. I start chemo next week in Pittsburgh, PA. I am 45 years old and it comes at the best time in our lives. We have 5 children and 3 grandchildren, everything was perfect till this. Don’t get me wrong I am not feeling sorry for myself, just the opposite. I believe that it had to be the worst so that the miracle will be the greatest. I win no matter what! Without chemo they say I have 6 months, with chemo, 2 years. The Love of Family and friends is overwhelming, I am being prayed for all over the U.S. as we speak. … God is in control, God is in charge of how everything turns out, God makes no mistakes, And God has our best interest at heart. I know cause He told me so … Love Rusty!
That’s a remarkable note in many ways. I love this sentence: “I win no matter what.” Only a man who believes in the “Father Almighty” can talk like that.
There is another way to put it together:
Father means he is the God who cares for me.
Almighty means he can do whatever needs to be done for me.
This week as I thought about all this, I began to work on completing this sentence: If I truly believed in God the Father Almighty, I would __________________. How would you fill in that blank? I think I know my answer. I would trust him more and I would complain less. I would smile more and frown less. I would stop trying to play God and I would let God be God in my life. I would be quicker to forgive and slower to get angry. I would risk more because I am secure in his love. I would be quicker to share Christ and less worried about what others think of me. I would say “Your will be done” and I would mean it because my Father is not my enemy. I would pray more and pout less. I would enjoy what I already have, knowing that if I truly needed something else, my Father in heaven would give it to me.
Do you not know? Have you not heard? This is our God—the Father Almighty. Put your trust in him. Amen.