I was talking to my mom recently when she said something that struck me. We were talking about God, as we often do, and she mentioned that the image of God as Father wasn’t always a positive one for her. She talked about how, growing up, she always felt like God was mad at her and that Jesus was the one who accepted her. Of course, as the know-it-all son, I felt the need to remind her that Jesus and the Father are actually one, but I began to wonder why she would’ve felt this way and where this negative image of God the Father might have come from. How much is our concept of the heavenly Father a reflection of our earthly image of what it means to be a father, and how can we redeem this image for those who have never had a healthy paternal relationship?
There’s no denying our society struggles with a healthy and positive image of fatherhood. According to statistics pulled from The Fatherless Generation:
63 percent of youth suicides are from fatherless homes (5 times the average).
90 percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes (32 times the average).
85 percent of all children who show behavior disorders come from fatherless homes (20 times the average).
80 percent of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes (14 times the average).
71 percent of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes (9 times the average).
Of course, these numbers don’t even take into account the number of people who grow up with abusive, neglectful, or overly demanding fathers. Regardless, what the numbers do make clear is the deep need our society has to redeem the image of fatherhood. For the church, the task becomes even more crucial as we seek to reconcile the role and image of earthly fathers with that of God the Father.
The Nicene Creed, begins, “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.” The Apostles’ Creed begins in a similar fashion. When we say we believe in God the Father, we affirm our belief in the fatherly role of the triune God. Yet, if I have an absent or abusive or neglectful father on earth, how can I form a healthy vision of who the heavenly Father is? How can God redeem the image of Father for me?
For the church, the task becomes even more crucial as we seek to reconcile the role and image of earthly fathers with that of God the Father.
Were it not for our God being three in one, this task might be impossible. But in Jesus, we get to experience the Father’s heart. Jesus shared with us stories of what the Father’s heart is like. It is like a shepherd going out and looking for one out of a hundred sheep. It is like a woman searching tirelessly for a lost coin. It is like a father who, even though his son wished him dead, waits endlessly in order to run to that same son and embrace him. The father’s heart is full to the brim with compassion. In one of his final discourses with his disciples, Jesus referred to going back to the Father and the disciples eventually joining them. The disciples said that they were not sure how to get there, and Jesus responded, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus came to show us the love of the Father. Jesus came in order to redeem the image of Father for us. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, all other images of paternal love can be renewed, redeemed, and repaired—because in Jesus we see the Father’s heart most clearly.
So here is my challenge to the church as we go into another Father’s Day season: How are you faithfully presenting the image of God the Father? How are you redeeming the image of a father for those in your church? How can you better heal, provide for, and restore that image for those in your midst whose idea of father has been all but destroyed? How can Father’s Day become a healthy, meaningful celebration in your church?