Fathers and God

dad2“I just wish I could understand my father” – Michael Jackson

Here’s a question.  When do you leave your parents behind?  When you become a teenager?  When you leave home?  When you start a family of your own?  When they die?

Our parents shape our lives – for better or worse. I’m not sure we ever lose the desire to please them. We look to them to tell us who we are – and who we could be.

But like us, they’re human.  And sometimes they fail.

“Sherman made the terrible discovery that men make about their fathers sooner or later… that the man before him was not an aging father but a boy, a boy much like himself, a boy who grew up and had a child of his own and, as best he could, out of a sense of duty and, perhaps love, adopted a role called Being a Father so that his child would have something mythical and infinitely important: a Protector, who would keep a lid on all the chaotic and catastrophic possibilities of life.” – Tom Wolfe

Freud thought that God was like a Father-figure in the sky: an invisible surrogate to make up for our disappointment with dad. But the bible says it’s the other way around. Having turned from the Original Father, all of us have fallen – parents and children alike. We are ungrateful kids with bad dads.

So, how do we get back to a true picture of Fatherhood? Well we don’t do the Freud thing. We work down from heaven and not up from earth. Whether they’ve been dead-beats or Father of the Year, our earthly dads are not the true Image of the Father.

Jesus repaints our picture of God. He reveals a Father in whose arms He has rested eternally. This Father is defined by giving.  He gives His Son.  He gives His Spirit.  He gives Himself.

Here’s how Jesus describes Him:

“While the boy was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming, and was filled with loving pity and ran and embraced him and kissed him. “His son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and you, and am not worthy of being called your son—’ “But his father said to the slaves, ‘Quick! Bring the finest robe in the house and put it on him. And a jeweled ring for his finger; and shoes! And kill the calf we have in the fattening pen. We must celebrate with a feast,  for this son of mine was dead and has returned to life. He was lost and is found.’ So the party began”. (Luke 15:20-24)

When Jesus speaks of the ultimate Dad, He knows what He’s talking about. And He invites us to know His Father as ours.

In Doug Wilson’s book, Father Hunger, he reflects on the character of God the Father before painting this compelling picture of true fatherliness: 

“Fathers give. Fathers protect. Fathers bestow. Fathers yearn and long for the good of their children. Fathers delight. Fathers sacrifice. Fathers are jovial and open-handed. Fathers create abundance, and if lean times come they take the leanest portion themselves and create a sense of gratitude and abundance for the rest. Fathers love birthdays and Christmas because it provides them with yet another excuse to give some more to the kids. When fathers say no, as good fathers do from time to time, it is only because they are giving a more subtle gift, one that is a bit more complicated than a cookie. They must also include among their gifts things like self-control and discipline and a work ethic, but they are giving these things, not taking something else away just for the sake of taking. Fathers are not looking for excuses to say no. Their default mode is not no.” Douglas Wilson, Father Hunger  

I hope these words ring true in your experience.  Or perhaps they cause you pain as compare them with your own dad. But however your earthly dads have measured up – there is a Father who is 100% like this. And in Jesus, He’s yours.

7 thoughts on “Fathers and God

  1. This is such a painful topic for me, especially in context with this past week. Especially with this from your post: “Fathers love birthdays and Christmas because it provides them with yet another excuse to give some more to the kids.” My spiritual birthday is linked to my earthly dad’s birthday. Forty-four years ago, on Janueary 24th, I met Jesus as a 10 year old, at a church revival meeting. I came home that night, went up to my dad and told him, “Dad, I was saved tonight! Happy Birthday!” His response to me was one of embarrassment; he didn’t know what to do with it or me. There was no hug or words that I remember. But, I went upstairs afterwards and wrote in my diary (which I still have)’ “Today, I was really saved”. Not a word about my dad’s response, but I have never forgotten it. Indeed, I believe that my decision to be “a good girl” was rooted in that day. The best gift I ever could have received–Jesus!–was not accepted by my dad when I offered him the opportunity to rejoice with me. So, I decided somewhere in my little girl heart that maybe Jesus wasn’t enough, that I needed to prove to my dad that I was really saved by being really good. It has led to years of trying to “take care” of him (I still don’t know if he knows the Lord) and a host of other people. Even though I “know” it’s not up to me to “save” him or anyone else, indeed I know I can’t, the pull is there. Is Jesus enough? Yes! But the battle is so very hard sometimes! This past January 24th is the first time for as long as I can remember thar I didn’t call my dad to wish him a happy birthday. It was too painful. Perhaps it’s too much to write in a comment. Thanks for writing the blog post! Would appreciate prayer.

  2. Watching my own husband destroy our son and our marriage by systematically being the opposite of those things at the moment. So sad – please pray……

  3. I would just say to Valorie, isn’t it wonderful, prayer? That we have one who knows our pains and is dealing with all our pains . The trouble is how often is this our experience of prayer? The loaded word here is prayer. In my experience, if our stories hinder, they need reframing. Stories can have great pulling power and readily distort our minds eg. when we seek narrative closure. That is to say, conclusive endings. All we have done then, is find narrative control and a pleasingness at the level of ‘stories’, quite possibly. I may be entirely wrong . But maybe one needs to take the ‘father hunger’ excerpt much less literally. I am old enough now to have an opinion and I didn’t like that quotation, it pulls, maybe as it intended to do, at the heart-strings and was a bit OTT for my liking anyway.
    PS. I say ‘reframing’, for i dont like us humans with pain to have it made any worse, so i try to deflect you and distract you, at least, from your own reflex.

  4. I think we continue to “leave” our parents daily. If we have children, we must allow them to leave us too. The very best we can do as parents (and friends for that matter) is to continually point back to our real Father.

    The father list above reminds me a lot of Rudyard Kipling’s “IF” , which I happen to love. I well remember sharing that poem with my dad. I thought he would love it because the sentiments seemed to mirror his own life aims, however imperfectly he had met them. I love my dad so much but he is a ridiculously prideful man and so wished to be God himself that he took my sharing the poem as a chastisement against his own character! “What?!”, angrily “Only Jesus could be like that!”


    Dan Allender’s “How children raise parents” says children are asking two basic questions of their parents and we are all asking the same of God:

    1. Am I loved?
    2. Can I have my own way?

    How we were answered by our own parents, and how we answer our children, provide the basis for much of our relational failures/success. We have to look honestly at what we were taught and say “Hey that really was a load of crap!” What a relief to lay down multi-generational lies in light of the answers God the Father has given us:

    1. YES, You are loved !
    2. No, you can’t have your own way!

    Recently Chris was bemoaning the years slipping by and the remaining ineptitude: “I don’t even know what I’m doing! I don’t know how to be a father!!”

    Finally the truth! Please stop trying, and let yourself be fathered.

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