Years ago, on my first day at Kibbutz Dovrat in Israel, I was walking across the lawn to find my newly assigned room. Off to my right a young boy—probably 4 or 5 years old—shouted to a man who was walking ahead of him, “Abba, Abba!”
It was my first chance to hear a native Hebrew speaker use this intimate expression of loving dependence towards his father. It thrilled me as something I knew from my own experience of the triune God’s love but had never heard in audible words.
My experience had a Bible context. I’ve written of it before but it deserves a revisit. Paul, in Galatian 4:6, wrote, “And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, who calls “Abba! Father!” We should listen closely to what he says.
First, we find God the Father is the lead figure in this intimate sharing. He sends the Spirit to all who “are sons”—men and women of faith—to hear his Spirit, yet without using an audible voice. How? By the Spirit speaking to our own spirits with a Heart-to-heart word. This was how I was thrilled in that late October day in Dovrat: the Spirit gave a heartfelt resonance to the boy’s cry. “This is what you are to me, my son.”
Second, the Spirit is “the Spirit of his Son”. In other words Jesus Christ, the Son, offers his own Spirit to speak to us by the Father’s initiative. Paul mentioned the basis for this in 1 Corinthians 6:17—we have the oneness-of-soul with Christ that a husband and wife share. So here in Galatians we are reminded of our unity in Christ as sons, with Jesus as the ultimate Son. In other words in his role as the Spirit-of-the-Son the Spirit assures us as sons that we share full access to the Father with the Son’s own intimacy. So the surge of joy I felt that day in Israel was a direct word to me—as one who arrived in country just as Israel’s October war ended—that I had Abba’s love to reassure me in uncertain times that I share in the same love he has for his Son.
Finally, our affinity as “sons” with the Son comes by our participation in the same Life the Son shares with his Father by the Spirit. Our union with Christ—“you are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:28)—now establishes the lively bond in us that the Father has always shared with the Son. This living faith is vastly more than mere creedal affirmation or simple participation in a social society called “Christians”. It is to have the Spirit of God coming into our souls like a wind that moves a forest: he stirs us with his active presence as promised by Jesus in John 3.
His stirring, however, is not chaotic—a swirling hurricane of signs and wonders—but the lively delight that inhabits the bond between a strong, caring father and a responsive son. It is what we see in the gospels as Christ’s devotion to the Father in the bond of love that the Spirit communicates from and to each other in the Godhead.
This is the delight of triune intimacy. The experience is very real though voiceless. In response we can whisper our prayers of “Abba, I need you”—wherever we travel and whatever our circumstances. And it expresses a bond we instinctively want to share with others.