God of Our Fathers
For the might of
Your arm we bless You,
We belong to His family and it is the family of faith. Faith looks forward to the kingdom of God on earth, and it looks forward to our personal future safe in His care. Faith looks backward to all the way that God has led us in our lives; and it also looks backward to the generations through whom we have inherited our faith.
Our God is the God of our ancestors. Looking back, we think of our parents, or our pastors, or those who have been elders in our community. They themselves looked back, perhaps to the Reformation and the rediscovery of scripture. The Reformers looked back to the apostles and the first Christians. The Jews looked back to Moses. Moses looked back to Abraham.
The expression has always been 'God of our fathers'. It was 'the God of our fathers' who raised up His son Jesus (Acts 5.30). It was 'the God of our fathers' who chose Saul - Paul - to be His messenger (Acts 22.14). The phrase marks the continuity between what God has been doing in the past and what He is doing now. "I am the God of Abraham...", not I was the God of Abraham. His work goes on.
And our faith too is a continuation. Perhaps we have learned more than our ancestors, and see some things differently. Jesus, indeed, had to correct the traditional beliefs and Jewish prejudices of his day. Perhaps with us doctrines have fallen out of fashion - or been rediscovered; 'new light' has been shed upon the Word, but the 'new light' may turn out to be an exaggeration or a misunderstanding. However, faith and trust in our heavenly Father continues even when our understanding is faulty.
It may be that the phrase 'God of our fathers' leads some to think that women are excluded. Certainly in human history men have nearly always taken the leading role. Yet Anna was there as well as Simeon when Jesus was presented at the temple (Luke 2.25,36). And Timothy inherited his faith through the female line - Lois and Eunice, grandmother and mother (2 Timothy 1.5). So it may be wise to understand 'our fathers' in a gender-blind sense, meaning ancestors generally, much as it had no particular reference to gender when we used to speak of 'mankind'.
If we are thinking of mothers, they too are part of the inheritance of faith through the generations. Someone had the thought of writing a hymn to celebrate their faith, alongside the fathers whom we respect and honour. Here it is.
For the strength
of your love we bless you,
From mother on to
Through pain and