Broadman & Holman
DOES EVERY CHILD NEED A FATHER? Increasingly, our society's answer to this question is “no,” or at least “not necessarily.” In the past few years, several well-known actresses have announced their intentions to bear and raise children alone. A recent Time magazine proposed that remaining unmarried can be “incredibly empowering” for women-even when this choice involves raising children without the presence of a father. The article implied that no woman really needs a husband, and by extension, children do not necessarily need a father.
Children today become fatherless through promiscuity, abandonment, separation, and divorce, in the name of male “freedom” or female “empowerment.” The net result is that tonight at least 40 percent of American children will go to sleep in homes in which their fathers do not live.1
We as a society have lost the presence of fathers, but we also have lost something much more fundamental: we have lost our idea of fatherhood. We are living in a culture of fatherlessness. Unlike earlier periods of father absence caused by war, we now face more than a physical loss affecting some homes. This cultural loss affects every home. Our society is afflicted not only with the absence of fathers but also with the absence of our belief in fathers.2
Few idea shifts in this century have had such enormous implications. At stake is who we are as male and female, what type of society we will become, and even more importantly, the way we understand and relate to God. Many people, inside as well as outside the church, no longer believe in the fatherhood of God. Skeptical, hostile feelings toward men have translated into skeptical, hostile feelings toward the God who images himself as Father. But the need to be well fathered is a fundamental need of the human heart. It is a need that was put in our spirits by our Creator-the heavenly Father, the true Father-who alone defines what fatherhood means and what fatherhood was meant to be. Relating to God as Father is essential to our spiritual well-being and is central to what it means to be a believer.
God is our Father. That does not mean that God is male. He is Spirit. And he encompasses all that is good in masculinity and femininity. The Bible at times uses feminine analogies and metaphors when speaking of God's actions and attributes: He carried the nation Israel in his womb (Isa. 46:3). He cries out like a woman in labor (Isa. 42:14). He birthed the Jewish nation (Deut. 32:18). He has compassion on us like a mother has compassion for the baby at her breast (Isa. 49:13). He nurses and nurtures us (Ps. 131:2). He comforts as a mother comforts (Isa. 66:13). These and other passages exhibit the beautiful, tender, nurturing aspect of God's character.
Because of these motherlike analogies, many in the Christian community minimize or even deny the importance of the name Father for God. They argue that it is but one name among many, and given the times we live in, we ought not to regard it as his preferred name. They suggest that we call him “Mother,” “Mother and Father,” our “Heavenly Parent,” or use nongender-specific names such as “Source” or “Creator.” More and more people are beginning to object to the practice of using masculine pronouns for God.
Why do we call God “Father”? It is a question that demands an articulate biblical answer. The first and most obvious reason we call him Father is because that is what he wants to be called. The first ¬person of the Trinity has many names-Almighty One, Creator, Most High, Holy Holy Holy, Rock, the Great I AM-but when Jesus came to tear away the veil so we could look directly into the heart of God, he revealed God as Father. Jesus used the word Father more than any other description or name. And he taught us to address God in the same way: “Our Father who art in heaven.” Father is God's self-revealed designation.
What do you think of when you hear the word Father? I think of sitting perched on the splintery counter of my carpenter dad's dusty workshop, watching him work. I think of the pungent smell of fresh-cut wood. I think of his huge, strong, callused hands. I think of learning my multiplication tables by pounding groups of nails into a two-by-four. I think of the white doll cradle he built for my sixth birthday, the set of bedroom furniture he built for my twelfth birthday, and the basement renovation he helped me with last year. I think of being rescued in snowstorms, watching fireworks from the roof, folding paper stars at Christmas, and being tickled till my sides hurt.
Many people do not have good thoughts and feelings when they hear the word father. To them the word means “abandonment, anger, shame, insecurity, fear, unpredictability, conflict, or pain.” But whether your thoughts are good or bad, it is undeniable that the word father means something to you. That's because father is a word that refers to someone. The concept is not abstract. When you speak of your father, you are speaking of a person who has, in one way or another, profoundly affected your life. He is someone who is or was alive-someone who has individual characteristics and a distinct personality, someone with whom you might interact and relate. Whether positive or negative, the word father means something real to each one of us. We all have a strong, clear concept of what father means-or what it ought to mean.
It is astounding that God would have us call him Father. The implications are staggering. The fact that he is Father indicates that he is a living, personal being and not an impersonal force. It means that we can get to know him. It means that we can talk to him and interact with him. It means that we can relate to him on a personal and even an intimate basis. I might not know how to relate to an Almighty One, a Most High, or the Great I AM because I have not met anybody like that. I have no earthly frame of reference to do so. But relating to a Father? That's different. Father does not denote an abstract force, a metaphysical power, or a cosmic aura. It speaks of a person with a distinct personality and characteristics. God would have us call him Father because it is a personal term that refers to a personal being with whom we can personally relate.
Father is also the term that best describes God's relationships, who he is in relationship to others. God relates to his only begotten Son, Jesus, and to us, his adopted children, as Father. Father implies family interaction. It implies causality and dependency, for a father is the source of life. It implies love and intimacy. It implies certain roles and responsibilities. Father is the pacesetter. He is the initiator, visionary, boundary setter, source, and final authority. A good father is committed to his family. He loves, protects, and provides. He lovingly guides, corrects, teaches, and instructs his children. A father also bequeaths an inheritance upon his children.
Consider Father God's relationship with his Son, Jesus. The Father has greater authority than Christ (John 12:16; 14:28; 17:2). Though equal in essence, Jesus submits himself to the Father's will (Phil. 2:6-8). The Father sent Jesus to secure redemption on our behalf (John 3:16-17; 17:3). Jesus always does what pleases his Father (John 8:29). Jesus follows his Father's directives exactly (John 14:31). He learns from his Father (John 15:15), speaks his Father's words (John 8:28; 14:24; 17:8), does his Father's work (John 10:25; 14:10), and brings glory to his Father (John 14:13). The Father highly exalted his Son (Phil. 2:9; Heb. 5:7-10), and appointed him heir to all things (Heb. 1:2). Jesus is the rightful heir to everything that belongs to his Father (John 16:15). Everything that Jesus has comes from his Father (John 17:7, 22, 24).
The word father denotes a different type of relationship than the words mother, brother, sister, aunt, or uncle. It is the term that most accurately represents the nature of the relationship between the first and second persons of the Trinity. And it is the term that most accurately represents the nature of his relationship to us. God calls himself “Father” because the word characterizes his relationships better than any other word.
Father is the most significant name of the God of the Bible. It is the name that sets Christianity apart from all the other religions of the world. Other religions invite us to worship their gods, allahs, creators, or metaphysical forces, but Christianity invites us to believe in a Son and enter into an intimate family relationship with a loving Father. Jesus, the Son of God, came so that we could meet his Father, be adopted into the family of God, and relate to the Almighty God of the universe in an intimate, personal, concrete way as sons and daughters. “God has said of you, 'I will live in you and walk among you, and I will be your God and you shall be my people. . . . I will welcome you, and be a Father to you and you will be my sons and daughters'” (2 Cor. 6:16, 18). If we do not know and relate to God as Father, then we do not really understand the gospel.
Father is the Christian name for God. God is not merely likea father as he is like a rock, like a fortress, like a shepherd, or like a ¬warrior. God is Father, and he alone defines what true fatherhood means. How tragic, foolish, and arrogant of us to shy away from this name because some human males are poor examples of fatherhood or because our culture regards a God named “Father” as oppressive and patriarchal.
When Jesus was on earth, his whole message was: “Come meet my Dad!” “Look at me,” he said, “see what my Dad is like.” “See how I imitate him!” “Let me tell you how much my Dad loves me!” “The love I have for you shows you how much my Dad loves you!” “The miracles I do are a result of the compassion and power of my Dad!” “The words I say, the things I teach, are truths from my Dad!” “Listen to me talk to my Dad.” “Watch me spend time with my Dad.” “Through me, he can be your Dad too!”
Jesus' message appeals to a fundamental need of the human heart: the need to be well fathered. Bringing us into a relationship with our heavenly Father was Christ's ultimate mission and goal. It was the reason he gave his life. Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). We enter into a relationship with Jesus so that he will lead us into the Father's house. At its root, a relationship with the Father is what the gospel is all about.
A number of years ago, in a small town in Spain, there was a young man named Juan. Juan was wild and rebellious. His father's attempts to correct him had failed. At one point Juan stole a large sum of money from his father and ran away from home. Month after month there was no word of him. The father loved his son and longed for him to come home. When he heard that someone had seen Juan in the city, he went to search for him. The father drove up and down the streets, showed Juan's picture to strangers, and checked in bars, but to no avail. Finding his son in such a large city was surely an impossible task.
Finally, an idea struck him. He took out an ad in the local paper. It said: “Juan. All is forgiven. How I long to see you again. Please meet me on Saturday at noon on the steps of city hall. Love, Dad.”
When Saturday came and the father went to the appointed place, he found, along with his son, more than a hundred other boys named Juan sitting on the steps of city hall. All the boys were longing, yearning, to have a relationship with the fathers from whom they were estranged.
The human need for being fathered is deep. The longing expressed by these boys is reminiscent of the longing for Father God that resides in each of our hearts. Our spirits long to be fathered by the father of our dreams, our perfect heavenly Father. That's what this book is all about, getting to know God as Father.
We each have a set of thoughts and feelings about God the Father. We automatically believe our assumptions about him are true and seldom stop to consider where we got our concepts. C. S. Lewis tells of a schoolboy who was asked what God was like. “He replied that, as far as he could make out, God was the sort of person who is always snooping around to see if anyone is enjoying himself and then trying to stop it.”3 The boy's perception was distorted. It was based on his experience with his earthly father and not on the clear teachings of Scripture. The task of this book is to help you explore what the Bible says about God the Father, to challenge and correct any misperceptions you might have, and to encourage you to get to know him better. It's my prayer that through these pages you will discover truth, clear away falsehood, experience healing, find hope, and above all, fall deeply in love with the Father who loves you.
In the last verse of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi looked forward to a time of righteousness when the hearts of the fathers would turn to the children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Even now, our heavenly Father's heart is turned toward you. Will you turn your heart toward him? Join me In My Father's House, and discover your heart's true home.