There are many valuable insights human fathers can learn about their roles by observing God’s character and actions as Father. But the sad truth is that no human father can ever be perfect like God is, and some of them are actually terribly unloving and even abusive. Not surprisingly, this sometimes causes their children to recoil from the idea that God is the Father of believers.
The New Testament is full of this rich idea of God as Father. Ephesians 3 talks about God being the Father from whom every family is named. And in John 14, there’s one of the most important prayers of the New Testament, where someone says to Jesus, “Show us the Father.” That’s something which we can echo in our own hearts —“Show us the Father.” That’s what we need to see, each one of us. And the glorious message of the New Testament is precisely that God is this gracious warm-hearted Father. Many people find that difficult because they come from family backgrounds, perhaps, where they have a distorted view of Fatherhood.
It’s authoritarian; it’s repressive in some kind of way, perhaps even abusive. And that’s really a very difficult thing for people to come to terms with. In the contrast with that, the New Testament gives us this great view of God as Father, and if people can walk into that, and God can reveal his Fatherhood to them then that’s a way to pastoral wholeness, personal wholeness, and to walking in freedom of life.
The aspects of God’s Fatherhood that we can and should emphasise, beyond fatherhood as power and authority, is fatherhood as unconditional love, fatherhood as active protection, fatherhood as vigilant provision. And these have wonderful teaching aspects for how fathers should be in their families. We need to observe is that we should be careful not to project normal fatherhood back onto the fatherhood of God. But instead, let the fatherhood of people, our human fatherhood, be defined by the fatherhood of God.
Many people throughout history, Martin Luther for one, were very much afraid of God, because they pictured him in terms of their earthly father and, therefore, thought him rigid, harsh, abusive. And today, and of course just obviously we ought to think of the fatherhood of God as defined by the life and ministry of Jesus Christ. And as we look back from Jesus into the fatherhood of God we have a fatherhood that’s tender and protective as well as strong and defensive.
The issue of the relationship between God as Father and human fathers is very important in our culture, especially because we of course so often experience in the brokenness of — especially modern families — father models who are problematic. And many people, as a matter of fact, will actually say that, “I don’t like to talk about God as Father or think about God as Father because my own relationship with my father was so hurtful, so damaging, and that will actually bring in unhealthy sorts of images or constructions of how I think about God.” It seems to me, though, that we have to consider that the Bible, of course, acknowledges the fallenness of the human family and of human relationships and acknowledges all of that.
The way in which the Bible handles this is quite the opposite. It is not a matter of “God as Father” meaning that I take my relationship with my own father, as broken and as hurtful and unhealthy as it might have been, and somehow project that back upon God. But rather, it’s the other way around. And that is that God as Father becomes a paradigm, a model, for how we ought to order our relationships, how we ought to order our families, and the like.
People can experience healing from the damage that they’ve experienced in broken relationships with their own fathers as they actually live into the biblical understanding of God as Father and God being our Father.
Apostles Creed, Lesson 2 Forum (Thirdmill)