My father is an alcoholic. He and my mother divorced when I was 14. For the few years before they divorced, he was in and out of rehab. I have had very little contact (a phone call or two and some happy birthday messages on Facebook) in last five years.
Even though I was a teen when he left, I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad being a father to me. Thankfully, I have not had to deal with feelings of rejection or loss about my dad. It is the absence of a father that has affected me most.
I know the Lord is my heavenly Father, and I feel Him calling me to seek Him and know Him more as my Father. Do you have any advice on how I can relate to Him in this way?
In his excellent book Family Vocation, Gene Veith, with his daughter Mary Moerbe, writes about the roles within family. In his chapter “The Office of Father,” he says,
In his earthly ministry, Jesus used ‘Father’ more than any other name for God. And God has been father since before the foundations of the world were laid—in the mystery of the Trinity, he has always been Father to the Son. Yet, too often we forget what being a father is, what fatherhood means.
Some have assumed that by using that term Jesus is helping us understand God, something we do not know, by comparing him to something we do know, namely, human fatherhood. God is not a literal father, of course; rather, he has certain remote similarities to fathers. But actually, the associations are reversed: God is the literal father. Earthly fathers have certain remote similarities to him. The essence of fatherhood is found in God, not in human beings.
As you have experienced firsthand, some fathers’ similarities to God’s fatherhood are more remote than others. That’s the heartache of families where fathers reject, despise and otherwise abdicate their responsibilities. The good news, however, is that your understanding of fatherhood is not limited to your earthly father because he is not what defines a father. God is.
And God has revealed himself to us in His Word. This is where you must go to understand God as Father.
The first and most important thing we learn about God from the Bible is that apart from Christ, we are cut off from Him. We are like the prodigal son whose sin has driven us from relationship with Him. But He is waiting for us to come home (Luke 15:11-32).
Psalm 27:9-10 says, “[F]ather and mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.” It is good and wise to turn to God our heavenly Father when our earthly fathers abandon us, but it is also necessary to turn to Him as sons and daughters of Adam who, in our sin, have rebelled against God and abandoned Him.
When human fatherhood breaks down, children suffer, women suffer, societies and civilizations suffer. But this is why Christ came. In His eternal Sonship, He humbled himself and obeyed His Father all the way to the cross. He suffered the most excruciating and unjust death sentence ever decreed so that He might free us from suffering God’s righteous wrath for our sins. This is the full meaning of what David was talking about in Psalm 27. The only way the Lord will take us in is through the blood of His Son, Jesus.
Once we are reconciled to Him, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13) who helps us understand the Bible when we study it. And we must study. There are many ways to do this. You could start at Genesis and read all the way through the Bible, looking for the repeated theme of God as Father, the One who provides for and protects His children as well as disciplines and instructs them.
You could do a word search for “fatherhood of God” and similar terms, noting all the characteristics that are part of God’s fatherhood. You could also read faithful commentaries on these passages as well as books that explore this aspect of His attributes. I recommend you do all three. It will be a lifelong pursuit to study and rightly handle God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15). And it is the most satisfying and life-giving thing you can do (see Psalm 119). Several books I’d recommend you begin with are A.W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, and Father, Son, & Holy Spirit by Bruce Ware.
Why This Matters
It is seismic and tragic to lose one’s father. Whether by out-of-wedlock birth, divorce, alcoholism, or just emotional absenteeism, life without a father is evidence of the fall, of the curse of sin, and not how God designed life “in the beginning.”
Thanks be to God when Christ died, paving the way for our adoption as children of God, the earth shook. He answered the seismic horrors of sin with the cataclysm of His own blood.
In Ephesians 3:14-15, Paul prays, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named…” God is calling you, as He calls everyone everywhere to know Him more as Father, not only because your earthly father has let you down, but even more importantly, because that is Who He reveals himself to be.
The good news is that regardless of how well or how poorly our earthly fathers reflect Him, God’s Fatherhood is eternal, and our ability to understand it is not limited to the pictures of fatherhood we have in our dads, the men who gave us physical life. Christ’s atoning blood opens the way not only to be reconciled to God our Creator, but embraced lovingly, eternally, as God our Father.
Copyright 2014 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.