I’ve got a little babbler on my hands. Arden is at the stage where she’s stringing syllables together, mostly “ba-ba-ba” or “da-da-da.” At this point they are random sounds, not associated with a particular concept, but they are words in an infant stage. Her favourite “word” by far is dada, and I’m trying to get her to match the sound with the reality of her Daddy.
In any language, a baby’s words for Mother and Father are simple ones – mamma, papa, dada. In Aramaic the word for Daddy is abba. Jesus taught us to speak to God as Father (pater in Greek), but we are also taught to call Him Dad, a tender term of intimacy.
Now I learned this a long time ago, but it was just this past week that I made the connection to baby talk. “Ah-ba” is something Arden says all the time. It’s one of the easiest vowel-consonant combinations there is. Before babies string consonant sounds together like “ba-ba-ba”, they will usually start with some vowel-consonant combo. Arden’s first such combo was “ah-goo”, followed closely by “ah-ba.” There’s a good reason that the Aramaic word for Daddy sounds like it does. Abba is baby talk. Anyone can say it.
The word is used 3 times in the New Testament. Jesus doesn’t use it in the presence of his disciples, at least not that we are aware of. He uses it in Mark 14:36 at a time and place of great loneliness and grief. We hear it first in Gethsemane, as he struggles to accept his Father’s will. It escapes his lips as he falls to the ground in prayer, an instinctual cry, simple syllables uttered in sorrow. It is amazing that when Jesus’ relationship with his Father is at its most strained, he uses the most intimate name he knows. It is a sound that returns to an almost pre-linguistic stage of being. This is the bond between eternal Father and only begotten Son.
We hear it again from Paul in Romans 8:15 and Galatians 4:6. It appears as a word we learn from the Spirit of adoption, spoken within us before it is spoken by us. We are born again as sons and daughters of Jesus’ Father, and the first word we learn in this new creation is Abba. This is the basis of our relationship with God. We are His children, sharing by adoption the same bond Jesus enjoyed by nature.
“Ah-ba.” Just a simple vowel-consonant combination. It sounds like babble till we associate it with the intimate reality of our Father. In this relationship, we don’t have to learn elaborate titles or complicated means of address. A vowel-less tetragrammaton is well and good for a reverent subject, but not for a child. The Unspeakable Name has been revealed, and we are to speak it with the delight and confidence of a 7 month old in Dada’s arms. When we don’t have any other words, Abba is enough.