This is quite a personal message about my experiences of both human fathers and God our Father. I’ve had three human fathers or father figures, who have not quite satisfied my fatherly needs as a child. In two of them, this was by omissions: with my biological father not being there and with my step father not being emotionally available and responsive. In the third case, with a father figure (not one of my actual fathers), this was by commission: through exploiting and abusing me.
Like many people, I exited my childhood with father-related disappointments and scars.
Becoming a Christian and thinking of God as my ‘Father’ was a big step for me. Luke 11:1-13 provides a remarkable account of Jesus’ experience of God as his Father and as our heavenly Father also. There are three key things we learn from this passage about God as Father, which contrast with my own less-than-ideal experiences of human fatherhood:
- While human fathers sometimes leave or abandon us, our heavenly Father, will never leave us. Jesus speaks about his relationship with God as something steadfast and certain. There is no sense that God might disappear. He is eternally “Our Father” (Luke 11:2). Hebrews 13:5 says “God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’.” And 1 Corinthians 13:7-8a says, “[Love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” God is Love and is absolutely steadfastly present with us.
- While human fathers sometimes are emotionally disconnected and absent, even though they’re physically there, our heavenly Father is always emotionally engaged and responsive to us. Luke 11:5-10 presents the story of a human friend who might grudgingly provide help because of friendship or even just to get rid of you. Jesus contrasts this friend who is reluctantly and ungraciously helpful with our heavenly Father who is always willing to respond to our needs and to take care of us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.“
- While human fathers sometimes neglect, abuse, exploit and harm their children, our heavenly Father gives his children only good things. In Luke 11:11-13, Jesus asks incredulously if earthly fathers would, when asked for something good and simple by their children, give them something dangerous, like a snake or scorpion. The implied answer is, “No, of course they would not!” But we know that, in fact, human fathers do sometimes hurt their children. But in stark contrast to them, Jesus says, “how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” Holy Spirit is the best thing that Jesus can imagine, and it is the Spirit that he says God gives to anyone who asks for something good.
Many of us have experienced less than perfect fathers. I myself am a far less than perfect father to my own son! (One day he might preach a similar sermon about me.) But in God our Father, we find a perfect father, who is always present, always fully engaged emotionally, always responsive to our needs and giving us only good, never bad. There is healing in this relationship with God our Father.
And this healing can also help us with our own father-wounds to forgive our fathers. Many fathers have done the best that they can with their own limitations and woundedness. Many did not intentionally harm their children. As we experience greater completeness in our relationship with God our father, we can begin to release our human fathers from their own limitations.
Featured image from https://www.watchtheyard.com/list/childrens-books-for-african-american-boys/