GOD OUR FATHER
by Lambert Dolphin and David Sacarelos
THE NEED FOR EARTHLY FATHERS
There are several signs in recent decades which demonstrate the deterioration of family and social life in the United States. One indication of the nation's spiritual decline is the increased number of young people being reared by mothers without the benefit of a father. Even when the father is present, he is often fully preoccupied with a demanding job and career. His influence over a family's daily affairs often would not even be noticed except for the pay check he provides. The generic modern American father is often remote, indifferent, unapproachable, and unavailable. He is a member of a misunderstood endangered species known as "father."
Psychologists say that a child's basic personality and unique responsiveness to his environment are established in the first five years of life. The age of gender identity formation may occur even earlier. Should not the role of the father extend beyond the mere initiation of life when the sperm is furnished to fertilize an ovum?
It is commonly acknowledged that children need to receive affection, affirmation, discipline and instruction from both parents. We are more influenced both positively and negatively during childhood and adolescence by adult role models than we are influenced by our peers. A caring father who nourishes an intimate and loving relationship makes a profound affect on a child's life. Children need caring and loving fathers. It is not always a mother's fault that her husband is not there. If she seeks God's help and mercy her children can often be headed into a path of wholeness and godlikeness in spite of a missing father. There are many individuals who have come from broken homes or difficult family backgrounds and yet experience fullness and wholeness. Many of these individuals take special care to make sure their own sons and daughters are reared in a loving and balanced family environment.
GOD AS HEAVENLY FATHER
The Bible reveals God as the Lord of the universe and calls Him "Father" in both Old and New Testaments. He is the Father and Lord of creation. James describes Him as "the Father of the lights." He created the stars as well as the angels. The Old Testament names angels as "the sons of God" (benai elohim). Paul says that every family under heaven is named or set aside for Him (Eph. 3:15). We all need a caring human father (or an equivalent) as early as possible in our lives to help us understand what God the Father is like as a Person. Remote, indifferent, unavailable human fathers can lead us to believe that God also is detached, unconcerned, and uninvolved in the daily cares of our world. However, the Psalmist (10:14) praises God as a loving Father:
"Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation." Hosea writes (14:3) that the fatherless find mercy in Him. God is described in Psalm 10:14 as the one who helps the fatherless. King David says, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up." (Psalm 27:10).
The Lord God is more than willing to help make up for absent fathers. Surely the most wonderful aspect of being a Christian is that we all have a unique relationship with the Creator of the universe, the God and Father of Jesus, the Living Spirit who is Lord of all history. Through faith in Jesus each one us may call God "Abba". (Abba is the Hebrew intimate word for "daddy.")
Unfortunately the word "dad" sounds alien to those who have never known a natural or adoptive human father as friend and intimate confidant. Though God the Father is creator of all things, He is known as a personal and loving Father only to those who call on Him and seek His face ( Acts 17:24:31). The Psalmist writes:
"The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry. The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth. When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles. The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit. Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the LORD delivers him out of them all. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned." (Psalm 34:15-22)
We become a child of God by placing our trust in Jesus Christ as Lord so that our sins can be forgiven and removed and our spirits regenerated. God receives us into His family, one by one, by the dual process of (1) spiritual birth and (2) adoption into His family. Each one of us may therefore make a choice to belong to Him and to benefit from His loyal-love.
Those who have not yet trusted Jesus for access to the Father enjoy "common grace." God is kind, merciful and gracious towards all humanity. He is kind to His enemies and withholds judgment in long-suffering love for the fallen world. "He make His rain fall on the just and the unjust." John 3:16 says that God so loved the entire world that He gave His only Son in order that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. This great passage of the Bible is yet another proof of the Father-heart of God towards His lost and fallen creatures. He gave His most prized possession, in only Son, to buy us back to Himself.
"You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your fathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake." (1 Peter 1:18-20)
THE FAMILY OF GOD
Our heavenly Father has been raising sons and daughters for thousands of years! He is fully acquainted with our needs and struggles. He is able to bring us from spiritual infancy through our spiritually-formative years and on to adult "sonship." He knows when it is time to be taken home to glory and our earthly days are finished. Our Father is great! He makes no mistakes. We can be thankful for His purpose for us to be born into the life of a particular nation, race and culture as well as for the unique set of parents He has given us. He has a sovereign plan for our long-term well- being. We should thank God for, and honor, our parents (Eph. 6:2) even though it may seem they have messed up our lives.
God does not merely place us in a certain family setting and then disappear from the scene of our daily lives! He does not wait until we have grown up before He interacts with us. He would like to be with us intimately every day of our lives whether we begin to know Him at age 6 or 60. God has no "respect for persons," but as Ray Stedman noted, "God has no favorites but He has many intimates."
"See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God's children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. And every one who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure." (1 John 3:1-3)
When we begin the Christian life we all start out as "little children" in the family of our heavenly Father. We soon begin to grow by feeding on the Word of God. We then move towards what the Bible calls "young men" (both sexes are implied). Finally God wants us to reach the stature, stability and spiritual depth of "fathers." He wants us to be stable, mature, well- rounded and wise. After we come to know the Lord Jesus in a personal way, it is very important that we respond to God's grace so that we may grow up to become whole men and women. God wills this spiritual maturity for all His children. We all need God's healing mercy to become what He wants us to be.
THE FATHER'S DISCIPLINE
Another aspect of child rearing well known to parents is the necessity of discipline in the home. Children need to have limits set for them. They must learn to distinguish between right and wrong. Even the natural curiosity of the child must be restrained at times if only to keep him from injuring himself or others. So also sons and daughters in the household of faith are trained by the discipline of their heavenly Father:
"And have you forgotten the exhortation which addresses you as sons? 'My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by him. For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.' It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb. 12:5- 11)
Many sons and daughters rebel against their parents. Sometimes they rebel for legitimate reasons, but often they rebel because of their own inborn passion, selfishness or pride. There are many prodigal sons who once named Jesus as Lord but now have departed in their life-styles far from the hopes and dreams of both their earthly parents and their heavenly Father. Some who were not disciplined by parents when they were young stray into trouble out of recklessness or self-deceit. Others have deliberately thrown off all restraints and sought their own paths in life. Parents often suffer great heartache and pain because of the foolish choices of their children. Unfortunately, everyone must suffer the consequences of bad choices in life. The Psalmist (68.6) writes, "God gives the desolate a home to dwell in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity; but the rebellious dwell in a parched land."
God desires for His children to rule as kings in the kingdom of our lives. This is possible only as we subject ourselves to the King of kings. Rebellion against legitimate authority opens us to deep inner evil. Samuel told King Saul,
"...rebellion is as the sin of divination, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king." (1 Sam. 15:23)
Rebellion affects not only the child (and the parents) but society as well. Under the Law of Moses, persistent rebellion against authority was a capital offense!
"If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son, who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they chastise him, will not give heed to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones; so you shall purge the evil from your midst; and all Israel shall hear, and fear." (Deut. 21:18-21)
Though He is holy and just, God is not vindictive, cruel, harsh or repressive. "...His kindness is meant to lead us to repentance." Judgment of human evil is something He undertakes only after waiting long for our repentance. Our God is longsuffering. Lamentations describes judgment as "God's strange work." It is as if His judgment is something entirely foreign to His loving heart.
"The LORD passed before Moses, and proclaimed, 'The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." (Exodus 34:5-7)
Rather than announcing doom, bad news and condemnation to mankind, the New Testament records instead stories of mercy, accounts of transformed lives, and parables of grace:
"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So Jesus told them this parable: 'What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness, and go after the one which is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance."
"Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
"And he said, 'There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, `Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.' And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, `How many of my father's hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."' "And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, `Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'
"But the father said to his servants, `Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.' And they began to make merry. "Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, `Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.' But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, `Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!' And he said to him, `Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'" (Luke 15)
JESUS: THE WAY TO THE FATHER
What is perhaps most remarkable about the story of the prodigal son, is that it was told to us by our Lord Jesus. Jesus Christ introduces us to the Father. Jesus, being the only son who has ever truly obeyed God and pleased Him, ends our estrangement from God. We were once God's enemies but are now brought near and reconciled to God by the obedience of His Son. Jesus shows us the Father by the life He lived. He said, "He who has seen me, has seen my Father." Jesus is our Elder Brother as we grow up in the family of God.
He is our daily Mediator with the Father. Many find that the Lord Jesus is especially compassionate and caring towards those who have never known a loving, caring human father.
Because of the Father's love for us and His earnest desire for us to know Him, Jesus took all our sins upon himself two thousand years ago. He opened a wide door for sinful men and women to come cleansed of sin and defilement of every kind into the presence of the holy God. This same Jesus, now alive from the dead, is fully acquainted with human weakness, sorrow, grief, suffering, and alienation. He helps us through all the forms of evil enticement we face: "He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin."
Jesus, the Christian's great high priest, is our Advocate and Healer who undertakes and champions our cause, defending the righteousness that He himself has given to us:
"For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:15-16)
The New Testament says that there are "not many fathers" in the churches of Jesus Christ. This apparently means that spiritually mature male Christian leaders eligible to be surrogate fathers are rare. We can not expect to find every older male in the congregation, nor every pastor, to have a father's heart for God's children. Even pastors who love the sheep dearly and know them one by one, may not by nature feel truly fatherly towards them all. This is all the more reason for us to center our lives around Jesus and to not merely identify with a pastor, youth leader, friend or teacher as the role model of a caring father.
THE FATHER AND SOCIETY
In societies where the role of the father seems to be irrelevant, detached and impersonal, the archetype of the "great mother" seems often to follow. This means that young people grow up reluctantly and may be slow to take on responsible adult roles in society. When the religion of the "great mother" prevails, moral standards drift into permissiveness, narcissism, and self-indulgence, because righteous authority and accountability tend to be lacking. Women don't function properly when loving male leadership is missing in the home or in society. Some of the excesses of the women's rights and liberation movement can be attributed in part to the global default of the father. Terrorism, rape, and violent crime proliferate in societies where wise and loving male leadership is absent. It is well known that children for instance who have been sexually abused by a father grow up to become abusers themselves in many cases.
Christian counselors have discovered that male homosexuals almost always describe poor relationships, full of ambivalence, with their fathers. They need extra same-sex affirmation later in life in order to make up their deficits in male self-identity. It is now clear that daughters as well as sons need a father's love, attention, and assurance in order to be moved on a path towards wholeness in life. Children who have never been disciplined and lovingly affirmed by a human father often have a hard time coping with the demands of adult life and opt out for alcohol, drugs, divorce or infidelity rather than facing the toughening things God sends our way for our maturity. We lack a sense of justice and a realization that moral standards are indeed absolute when male leaders in the home and nation are spineless and compromising. It is certainly difficult for someone to easily trust God when his or her own human father was violent, unpredictable and indifferent!
THE CHRISTIAN MAN AS FATHER
Fathers ought to love their sons and daughters unconditionally. This means life-long acceptance and an open door for the worst of prodigal sons and wayward daughters to come back home. It also means accepting and adjusting to the uniqueness of one's children and not expecting them to turn out just like us . Solomon advises us to "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." (Proverbs 22:6)
This verse is often not properly interpreted. The correct meaning is that parents are to understand each of their children as unique creations of God and to respond to each of them according to his or her own differing talents, capabilities and needs.
Good parents love us conditionally as well as unconditionally so we will learn to work, support ourselves, and take responsibility for our own moral choices when we reach an age of accountability. Adult life means living with unfulfilled needs and desires, often for long periods of time. Life frequently demands the extra mile from us and dispenses postponed rewards even for jobs well done. The Christian should not despair, for the child of God's rewards are in the next life. They are the rewards with the greatest value! Non-believers around us live purely for short-term gratification and worldly pleasures. They have no hope at all for a life beyond the present one. God does not promise us in this life wealth, success, public acclaim or even good health. He only guarantees to be with us through whatever comes our way. Paul the Apostle writes,
"Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me." (Phil. 4:11-13)
GOD THE FATHER'S ULTIMATE PLAN
Our world is certainly messed up. Few of us start out right and fewer of us continue on the narrow path. Society continues to deteriorate: Child-abuse, perversion, violence and terrible cruelty are commonplace. As Jesus predicted, "Because wickedness is multiplied, the love of most men will grow cold." (Matthew 24:12)
God will one day intervene in our corrupt world to set things right, punish evil, and reward the godly. God has the power and the determination to restore all the societies of earth and to reestablish the family as the basis for civilization.
"Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the great and terrible day of the LORD comes. And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse." (Malachi 4:5,6)
While we wait to be with our heavenly Father and experience the restoration of all things, we are assured that this is the season of God's grace. God's is holding back His wrath and judgment. Now is the day of grace, today is the day of salvation. God our Father is loving, compassionate, forgiving and full of mercy. The Scriptures says He is not willing that any should perish but desires that all men should come to a knowledge of the truth. He longs to hold us in His arms and heal, comfort and encourage us. His response to His children is guaranteed, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."
The God of the universe is different from our earthly fathers. He knows all about formative years and is eager to make all things new for you.
"Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies. For thy name's sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great. Who is the man that fears the LORD? Him will he instruct in the way that he should choose. He himself shall abide in prosperity, and his children shall possess the land. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for he will pluck my feet out of the net." (Psalm 25:8-15)