From “Jesus’ Abba:
The God Who Has Not Failed”
by John B. Cobb Jr., b.1925
Jesus stood in the tradition of the prophets. Beginning with Amos they denounced the focus on obeying rules and called instead for behaving justly. They were appalled that people would gather for religious feasts and ceremonies and continue to deal unjustly with the poor. True obedience to God was expressed in viewing matters from the perspective of the most oppressed. The widows and orphans were those who had the least status or security in the social system, and these are mentioned repeatedly in the prophetic literature.
That Jesus’ spiritual Abba is the God of the prophets is clear in all his deeds and sayings. Further, his special choice from the great library of Hebrew sacred writings was the Isaiah scroll. In “Luke,” the poem recited by Mary on the announcement of her pregnancy is a powerful prophetic utterance. the “Magnificat” (Luke:46-55). Whether Mary is the actual source is anyone’s guess, but it is not unlikely that Jesus imbibed much of his understanding of God from his mother. Certainly, prophetic ideas were prominent in Galilee.
The prophetic God whose concerns focused on the poor and oppressed could be represented in a variety of ways. The prophetic word was often harshly judgmental, and sometimes the announcement of a well-deserved punishment and the call to repentance could be associated with a frightening threat. But sometimes the emphasis was on God’s mercy and the assurance of eventual relief. Sometimes the justice that was demanded was primarily an outward act, a way of structuring society. Sometimes the focus was on the heart, the inner life and the motives of action.
Generally, the image of God’s power is of control. I have argued that the texts rarely make God the sole actor in nature or history, but God’s role typically appears to be to push in a particular direction, often decisively. On the other hand, sometimes we find expressions of divine intimacy and tenderness. Occasionally the language is drawn from relations in the family. Hence, Jesus’ understanding has roots in the scriptures he studied. But nowhere in his sources do we find this intimacy and tenderness the central theme in the understanding of God. This was the revolutionary insight of Jesus: seeing God as Abba and understanding Abba’s love as intimate and tender. Jesus‘ Abba is the God of the prophets qualified as love.