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?
6 thoughts on “CAN I ASK A QUESTION?”
I hear you Scott: I think every pastor out there has encountered this issue. As far as using Uncle as an example you can run into the same problem. I think we need to stick to God as Father and help the hurting ones to healing by encountering God as a Loving Father, the way He actually intended them to be nurtured. He can re-father them. Long process and a painful one as well. Often though the steps to healing are painful. Even the path to physical healing after an injury often involves a lot of pain. I don’t want to be simplistic. I do however have to believe that healing is possible. I say, stick to Father from the pulpit (acknowledge the issues with that) and have the necessary conversations.
I have run into this as well…some people who don’t like my use of the term Father for God…
I myself am very glad that God my Father is not like my dad. My dad isn’t a bad guy at all, but I would not describe my relationship with him as intimate. My dad is the strong silent type. Very hard to get to know. To me, Father God is not my dad; He’s the perfect Father I need, the Father we all need. My husband cannot love me as much as I need because he is a limited human being, and my father can only give me what he has to give as well. Our earthly fathers cannot love us with all the Father love we need. We live in a broken world, and this messes everything up, including our primary relationships.
Jesus used the term Father specifically when he taught us how to pray. Does that mean that all fathers in Jesus’ day were fair and just and loving with their children? I highly doubt it! This logic, that since our earthly relationships are full of sin so we cannot use any of them in reference to God doesn’t make sense. When I was growing up I did not have one trustworthy friend. Did that mean I could not relate to Jesus as my friend? Exactly the opposite…I stuck to Jesus, my best friend, like glue, because he made up for what I did not have.
God our Father is Redeemer God…I think he purposely refers to himself as Father and to us as his children in order to heal our hearts. He wants to exchange beauty for our ashes, and to let us know he’ll meet all our needs for love, protection, provider, believer in us, etc. When our pain surfaces as a result of the term, wouldn’t that be the prompt we need to pursue God for healing of our broken hearts, so that we can receive into our hearts the greatest Father we could ever have?
Maybe our response to someone who has a problem with the word ‘father’ should be compassion and prayer?
As for putting a heavy on dad’s out there by talking about our Father God…does talking about Jesus put a heavy on husbands? or believers, since we are to be like Him? Newsflash – none of us measure up…that is the gospel message… 🙂 And, since anyone can have Father God in their life, dad’s can put their trust in Him, to be a Father to their children as well. God had no problem asking Joseph to father his only Son…because God didn’t leave it all to Joseph, did he. 🙂
Presenting God as Who He is the only way to offer hope to those of us who suffered at the hands of men. Stating Who God is presents a Positive Standard by which the abused can measure their negative experiences and gives us hope. I believe the main concern is not presenting God as Judge before offering assurance of God’s deep love. That is really hard to do in my opinion. Consequences of personal injury from fathers are complex and the effects incapacitate people from seeing and experiencing life like those who have never endured such wrongs. But I have found a bridge between the two worlds: Acknowledging injustice, labelling that clearly and with authority, emphasizing God’s hatred toward such violence. (Psalm 15 : 4, Malachi 2 :16).
So, when in your sermons you have presented a list of what something is, and what something is not…for example, “What Forgiveness Is” and “What Forgiveness is Not”, you have offered an excellent preliminary for helping the injured grasp some clarity.
And yes, your last comment is correct, “wouldn’t that be the prompt we need to pursue God for healing of our broken hearts, so that we can receive into our hearts the greatest Father we could ever have?” Yet, some could not possibly conceive of anything so great.
They can begin to conceive of it when violence and God’s hatred about it is clearly defined, then testifying of this Father so Good, while pointing out that any abusive experience was a wrong, serious, human failure. It is important to clarify that His intent toward us is never cruel.
Thanks Shelley, you have hit the nail on the head. Where there is brokenness and pain, we can and do experience redemption and healing. That is good news! Laurel
Very important questions. A few thoughts.
It is important that the Bible calls God Father, both for God and more specifically for the first person of the Trinity. I don’t think that the church should stray too much from this, especially in their public worship and confessions. It is also important to keep in mind that God is personal, so language of parenting, protection and intimacy are key.
I think the language of Father, Son, and Spirit is also the best summary of what Christianity is: the Father sends the Son, who is God’s true image, and as we follow the Spirit we are created and transformed into the Son’s image, even as we move toward and awaits final communion with God.
But of course, Christians don’t believe that God is gendered, that is an old pagan concept; God is beyond the categories of male and female. So in an important sense the language of Father is already metaphorical and inadequate.
Given this, I would suggest keep using Father language in public worship but encourage individuals who have problems with the term Father to experiement in their own private prayer and contemplation with other images. I think Mother is fine for this, since the bible also uses mothering images for God’s love for Israel and the Church. Or, the bible also uses bride and groom language both for the relationship of God to Israel and Jesus Christ and the church. Using this language in prayer, especially when seeking healing, could be helpful.
Best of luck, God bless.