First things first–Happy Father’s Day to all the dads.
Actually, this morning is a good opportunity to me to ruminate on something that’s been going on in my head for awhile now. I’ve been thinking about the different ways God tries to describe Himself to us, and the word pictures He uses. Sometimes He describes Himself as a provider, other times a judge, sometimes an intercessor, sometimes a warrior, sometimes a lover/bridegroom, sometimes an advocate, sometimes a mother (one of the names for God, “El Shaddai,” literally means “the breasty one”).
But if the appearance of Christ is the most tangible expression of God among us–to the point that we should interpret Scripture through the lens of the life of Christ to understand the heart of God–then there’s one descriptor that stands out among the others: God wants us to see Him as a Father.
The idea of God as Father was not new to the Jews, but in Scripture at least, Jesus was the first one to really begin revealing God to us in that light. Sometimes we pass it off as Him being the Son of God and all (so obviously He sees God as His Father), but Jesus actually went to great lengths to convey to His followers that God was their Father, too. The thing is, when we get hold of this idea, it really does re-frame a lot of what we read in the Scriptures (both before and after Christ). It explains a lot.
Now, let me interrupt my own train of thought here to say that I recognize there are a lot of people in our day who have a hard time with the idea of God as a Father. I’ve heard from some of them even in the blog comments over the years, and I understand why they feel that way, at least in part. Our culture’s definition of “father” is really skewed. It’s a phenomenon that has been growing progressively worse over the last few generations, where so many of our fathers have been either absent or neglectful or abusive to us, and examples of “good” fathers seem few and far between. I consider myself to be part of this “fatherless generation”; I have a natural father, and he was home for at least part of the time I grew up, but overall I don’t think he ever really “got me.” Our relationship was rocky and strained, and today it remains amicable but distant. My wife, The Wild One, met her father a couple of times as a teenager, and that’s about it.
So I definitely understand our aversion to the idea of God as Father. For far too many of us, we see fathers as indifferent, disinterested, judgmental, mean, selfish, and sometimes even predatory–and I’m sure you could insert a number of other negative adjectives. If God is anything remotely like our natural father, we reason, we want nothing to do with Him. I personally believe this fatherless phenomenon has had far-reaching effects to our society over the past few generations–but that’s probably for another blog post.
But what we need to understand is that we are interpreting the word “father” in the light of what it has come to mean to us. This is not what fathers have always been like, and despite so many bad examples around us, most of us still have some sort of understanding of what a good father should be. This is what we need to remember about God our heavenly Father; He is perfect. He’s not telling us that He is like our earthly fathers; He’s modeling for us what earthly fathers should aspire to.
So let’s drop the argument for a moment that we cannot accept God as Father because of the negative examples in our lives, and think for a minute about what a good father truly looks like. (As I said, most of us can still do that.) This will give us a better picture of God as the ultimate Father. I have a few ideas here, and you might be able to insert your own:
- A good father is present. He is actively engaged and concerned with our life.
- A good father is loving. He is unafraid to show affection.
- A good father is affirming. He celebrates our victories with us, and indeed celebrates the fact that we exist.
- A good father is protective. He sets reasonable boundaries to keep us safe.
- A good father always acts in our best interests. Everything he does (including discipline us) is ultimately for our good, not for harm.
- A good father lays down his very life, if necessary, for the good of his children. (Just think about that one a bit.)
That all being said, let’s go back to what I was saying about Jesus revealing God as Father, and how that can affect our view of Scripture. Here are just a couple of examples.
IF GOD IS A FATHER, THE BOUNDARIES HE LAYS ARE FOR OUR GOOD.
Think back for a minute to Genesis 2, when God laid out the first boundary to Adam and Eve: “You must not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” To many people, this sounds like a threat: “If you eat it, I’m gonna kill you.” But that’s not what He said. If God is a Father, this is not a threat, but rather a warning for the good of the man and woman–an entreaty to keep safe.
I truly believe God is not random with His laws and rules. He created the universe, and He knows how it runs, and everything He calls “sin” is something that is unhealthy for us and brings death. “The wages of sin is death,” the Bible says. God does not want us to sin because He doesn’t want us to die. For me, it’s the same idea a father instructing his child not to play in the street. That’s not a random rule–it’s so the kid doesn’t get hit by a truck. When God gets angry when the boundaries are crossed, then, it isn’t arbitrary annoyance. A loving father gets indignant about anything that endangers his children.
IF GOD IS A FATHER, THEN EVEN HIS JUDGMENTS HAVE A REDEMPTIVE PURPOSE.
Probably the passages of Scripture that people have the hardest time with are the ones where God pronounces judgment and wrath, particularly across a large group of people. Yes, this is a hard one for us to swallow, if for no other reason that unlike God, we are not burdened with the dynamics of managing the actions and consequences of large people groups. But if you look at God through the lens of “father,” and you look at the outcomes of those judgments, you’ll still see redemption–good that came out of it. You also can see that even when God warned of judgment, He stayed His hand sometimes for centuries, continually giving the people in question the opportunity to repent on their own. (He even allowed His chosen people Israel to remain in slavery for over 400 years while He gave the nations around them a chance to repent.) As I look at God as a Father, I actually see His judgment as a last resort–and even then, it is redemptive in scope.
IF GOD IS A FATHER, THEN HE IS PRESENT AND ENGAGED IN OUR LIVES, EVEN WHEN WE DON’T SEE/FEEL HIM.
Did you know that God is never mentioned in the Book of Esther, even once? Yet if you read Esther and watch how that story unfolds, it’s very easy to recognize the hand of God within those circumstances as you see God preserve His people from the threat of extinction, and you see justice done.
In times when I’ve counseled people as a pastor, we sometimes had to grapple with tragedies or abuse in people’s lives, where they wondered where God was or why He let ____ happen to them. But as we would talk, pray, and ask God to reveal Himself as Father within those memories, without fail that person’s eyes would open, and he/she would recognize God’s hand in that time of their lives where he/she hadn’t seen Him before. And without fail, when that moment of truth occurred, we watched people be set free. If God is a good Father, then He is present–even if we can’t dictate how/where He makes His presence known.
All this rambling to say…I believe that above all else, God has revealed Himself to us as the ultimate Father. It’s an understanding that is continuing to unfold in my own life as I continue to grapple with my own sense of fatherlessness, but I’m in a place where I can fully accept God as a perfect Father in my life. As a father myself, I am also aware of the ways in which I’ve failed to live up to this standard with my own son, but the example of God the Father has guided my path, and at the very least, I’ve been able to own my mistakes–and in the process, my own son and I have found a measure of healing together.
So today, this Father’s Day, I will honor my natural father, as should you. But let us also honor our heavenly Father who has set the ultimate example of Fatherhood, and continues every day to love us, nurture us, and act toward our good.