So I have this dilemma that I’m trying to work through, and I’m hoping that somebody out there can give me a bit of insight. A couple of weeks back I preached a message on being with Jesus, contemplating his last days as he was preparing to go to the cross. Naturally, a topic such as this leads to having an intimate relationship with Jesus, linking it to the intimate relationship Jesus had with his Father.
Now because I had a great Dad, I have no problem using examples from my boyhood of our times together…and it is so easy to transition right into my close relationship that I have with Jesus. On that Sunday I pointed out that Jesus actually calls us friends, and desires a relationship with us similar to what he has with his Father. I then gave everyone a handout that gave step by step instructions on how to have those ‘contemplative’ moments with Jesus for four days during Holy Week.
So far so good.
I then walked everyone through a sample of what a contemplative time could look like. As I looked out over the auditorium, it was clear that people were encountering the ‘Father’s love’ for them. Perfect.
The service was slowly brought to a close. People were gathering their things up, others we’re chatting with their neighbours, and then there were others who were still engaged in prayer. And then it happened. A person came up to me with bewilderment and questions written all over their face. They shared with me that they have a really hard time with talking about God as their Father. They didn’t have that type of relationship with their dad as I did with mine. In fact, their dad abused them. As I listened to them explain the pain they experienced as a child, I couldn’t help but wondering how many others that morning had the same difficulty with me referencing God as ‘Father’. I prayed for them that they would experience God’s love this week. They left with some hope. I left with many questions.
We only get one father in this life, and if that father is a ‘piece of work’, then referencing God as ‘father’ probably isn’t a good thing. Or is it?
I’ve been thinking about this since that Sunday. If the Bible referenced God as ‘mother’, my perception of God (and maybe my relationship) would be different. I had a good mother, but she wasn’t like my father. There are a couple of ‘issues’ that I have had to deal with as an adult, and still have to work out in my more insecure moments.
So I put this question to my home group. One of them said that they couldn’t relate to God as ‘father’ because of their experience with their own dad. They suggested I could use ‘teacher’ because probably everyone has experienced a good teacher. But we don’t get to choose our ‘dad’ – what we get is what we get. And some of us are not that lucky.
I’ve wondered if I should not use any comparison of God’s love towards us? But the Bible does. What about if the only good example we have is an uncle, can people see God as their ‘uncle’? Maybe, but at the same time, I want to be faithful to Scripture. The last thing I want to do is stir up ‘bad memories’ or painful emotions in someone. More than anything, I want people to encounter the God who loves them with a pure love, like no one else can.
I’ve also wondered if maybe I should take the opposite approach – that God demonstrates what a true ‘father’s love’ looks like, not what our earthly father’s love looks like. But at the same time, I don’t want to put a ‘heavy’ on dads and make then feel like complete losers that don’t and never will measure up.
Any suggestions out there?