Why Should the Father Bother?

I’m feeling nostalgic today and when I saw a tweet mentioning the 70s/80s/90s Christian rock band Petra, I began a search for their music on Spotify. It has an amazing amount of Petra’s music, so I have been reliving my Christian rocker days. Some of the music is as fantastic as I remember it (‘The Colouring Song’, ‘Beyond Belief’)! Some if it I cringe when I listen to it (‘This Means War’). It makes me think, ‘Did I really think this is good?’ Not just the music itself but the words.

One song that really made me stop cold is one of Petra’s earliest songs. I doubt I have heard this in… wow, 20 years. [Aside: Can it REALLY have been that long!] The song is ‘Why Should the Father Bother?’ Here’s the chorus:

Why should the Father
Bother to call us His children?
Why should the Spirit
Hear it when we pray?
Why should the Father
Bother to be concerned with all our needs?
It’s all because of what the Son has done

Part of me wants to believe that they went for the cute, near rhyming pattern (father/bother, spirit/hear it). Even if that’s true, is that what they mean to say? The Father would have nothing to do with us, the Spirit doesn’t listen to us – except that Jesus came and died for us. Behind this is the penal substitution theory of atonement that says that God can only love us because he needed an outlet for his wrath and took it out on Jesus. That way all can be happy because God let off his steaming anger and he can at least look at us again without being disgusted.

Rather, the ‘Father did bother’ – that’s why he sent his Son. I do hear the song saying that if it wasn’t for Jesus then God wouldn’t care a lick (which I hope the songwriters don’t mean). Perhaps, rightly or wrongly, I have heard this a little too much lately in the rush to defend hell from Rob Bell. I’m not saying that I agree with Bell (and I haven’t said much about it as I haven’t read his latest book, Love Wins), but I have wondered about the rush to defend Hell.

Perhaps in the write ups and reviews of Bell’s book, I have struggled to remember that God is first loving, and I’m sorry, I don’t hear the good news of a loving God when God demands acceptance in this life or get eternal torturous punishment. The reviewers have spent most of the time telling how Bell got his exegesis wrong or he did not thoroughly select from the church fathers. I haven’t heard anyone offer a more soundly exegetical reading that attempts to offer a truly loving message like what Bell is attempting to do.

I have always said that I need to study the issues more, and I need to get around to that. But, at the moment, I want to remind myself that God sent Jesus because he loved us.


7 thoughts on “Why Should the Father Bother?

  1. Will, like you, I have not read Bell’s book. I missed that particular Petra gem, but I share your discomfort with the implications of the lyrics. (I’m not sure all proponents of penal substitution would see the song as representing their views, either.)

    Here’s what I take to be a fairly non-controversial view of the matter. God’s will for humans is that we be creatures after God’s image – holy, loving, just, merciful, and wise. Humans, in our free will, reject God’s will out of pride or desire or some other fundamentally disordered choice.

    The consequence of this is the reign of sin in our hearts and in the world. Bell calls this the creation of Hell on Earth. Without God’s gracious action, we will ride with our sin into eternal judgment and be without the holiness that is necessary to see the Lord.

    So, God acts to save us. God comes in Jesus Christ to break the power of sin, offer himself for our sin, and call us to holy life. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we are freed and made fit for both heaven and the new creation.

    Absent God’s action, we are bound by sin and bound for Hell. God loves us. God loves us when we are shackled by sin. God loves us when we turn out back on him. But God will not force us to walk out of our prison cell, even as the fires burn around us.

    I don’t view this as defending Hell or saving it from Rob Bell. It is how I understand the biblical story. I don’t see how that story is at odds with the notion of God as loving us.

  2. Hi John, and thanks for your comment. There is nothing I can fault from your understanding. I would say it is broadly in agreement with my own. But, there are plenty of others saying differently and are certainly trying to keep Hell in place.

    For instance, I am reading through all of Witherington’s stuff on the book (his are so long I can’t digest them all at once). He’s tearing apart Bell’s exegesis and I will be interested to see if he puts anything back together.

    Maybe the fault is my own: I simply don’t want to believe that death has to be the end for everyone.

  3. Will, I certainly agree that I am not God and therefore cannot say what the rules are. I’m just trying to understand as well as I can given the light that I have.

    I thought I could see Witherington in the background on your post. I do wonder how he will end the series, too.

  4. These lyrics are very concerning to me. I personally believe in a Christus Victor view of atonement, but I’m not so worried by divine substitution theory as I am by a reluctant-to-love God. A God who must be compelled to love is not the God (El-Shaddai, Yahweh, and Jehovah) of Scripture.

  5. Perhaps you’re right in that not everyone who holds a divine retribution/penal substitution would believe in a reluctant-to-love God. Whether that is what the author of these words meant, that is what they say! And that is troubling because as Wesleyans know, we sing our theology!

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