Nearly every language has a short repetitive word for “father.” For example, in English, it’s “Dada.” In Spanish, it’s “Papa,” in Indonesian, “Bapa,” and in Turkish, “Baba.”

Who comes up with these words? Babies do because humans have a primordial desire to reach out for a parent, someone who loves us perfectly and can take care of us.

That’s what our spirit is yearning for when we cry out, “Abba”:

“For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear. Instead, you received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father!’”

­–Romans 8:15 CSB

“Abba” is not just the name of a (severely underrated) band from the 70s; here, it’s the Aramaic word for “father.” It’s the realization of our heart’s desire for the One who gives us perfect, unconditional love and care.

Our earthly fathers, no matter how good they are, can’t fully fulfill that. Even good dads eventually let us down—if for no other reason than they can’t be with us forever.

And so, we go through life looking for that fulfillment and security we first yearned for when we cried out “Dada” as children. We search for it in romance, in reputation, in financial security. Some of us know we’re doing this. Many of us don’t. But the yearning is universal.

God answers that yearning in Christ Jesus, and that releases us from the spirit of slavery and the accompanying spirit of fear.

The spirit of slavery is where we need satisfaction, security, and meaning from some thing. It’s usually a good thing—money, family, romance, freedom, career. But because we need that thing to fulfill such mammoth needs, we soon become a slave to that thing.

And, as is always the case with slavery, along comes the spirit of fear. In this case, fear that we haven’t done enough, that we won’t make it, that we’ll be ruined, that we won’t be approved of. We become fearful of our circumstances. When bad things happen, we think, “Is life going to unravel? Am I going to be forsaken? Is this finally when everyone discovers I’m a fraud?”

The Spirit of adoption works differently. In adoption, we cry out, “Abba, Father,” releasing us from both the spirit of slavery and the spirit of fear. No longer do we have to work to keep meaning and satisfaction from slipping away. Instead, meaning and satisfaction are given to us, freely, as a gift.

If you are in Christ, you are not a slave who needs to be afraid. You are a son or daughter who stands secure in God’s love.

As a kid, I never felt safer than when I was around my dad, and I was terrified of the thought of him or my mom going away. My dad tells the story of taking me camping one weekend when I was around 5 years old, and he said I slept all night with my hand on his back. The next morning he asked why, and I told him I was afraid that I’d wake up in the middle of the night and he’d be gone and I’d be left alone in the woods. (Of course, he hadn’t done anything that would justify that fear. I just had a hyperactive imagination, and it was my greatest terror in life to be stuck somewhere scary without him.)

We’re all grown up now, but isn’t that a picture of what we all still fear—to be left alone out in the wilderness of life?

There is good news: You don’t have to be afraid. You are a beloved child of the Most High God, and you can be sure he will never leave you or forsake you.

You don’t have to keep your hand on God, because he keeps a nail-scarred hand on you.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, leading up to the cross, Jesus cried out, “Abba, Father,” but he was met with silence. He cried out, “Abba, Father” and was forsaken so we could cry out, “Abba, Father” with confidence. He was pushed away so we could have the assurance of always being drawn close.

That assurance should change our view of everything. We don’t have to be afraid of bad circumstances. We don’t have to wonder if we’re doing well enough to earn the love of those around us. Our slavery is ended. Our adoption is now. We are children of a Father who loves us with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever love.

J.I. Packer said,

“If you want to judge how well a person understands Christianity, find out how much he makes of the thought of being God’s child and having God as his Father. If this is not the thought that prompts and controls his whole outlook on life, he does not understand Christianity very well.”

Even if you had a bad earthly father, you can know this: God is the Abba Father your Spirit has always called out for. He loves and cares for you perfectly, and you can trust him in all things.