The Fatherhood of God
What comes to mind when you hear the word "God"? What is your concept of the Creator? I've talked with people who relate to God as if He were something of a coach. There's no real relationship, at least not on a personal level. Joining the church is like making the team. When God does choose to communicate, it isn't with soft-spoken words of loving encouragement but with an angry shout of "Run faster! Jump higher! Two more laps!" One's responsibility is to train hard, perform well on game day, and perhaps be fortunate enough to get a slap on the seat and a perfunctory 'Nice job.'
Others think of God more as a teacher. To them, being a Christian means studying harder, learning more, memorizing doctrines and texts of Scripture and then regurgitating it all on test day. The important thing is getting all "A's" and graduating to the next "grade" of spirituality. God's primary role is to make sure we spell His name right and assign detention when we misbehave.
Then there are those for whom God is a boss. Getting a good job in the kingdom is priority one. Christians are just so many employees who are responsible for getting to work on time and putting in a solid eight hours. God is there principally to fill out performance reports and to decide who gets a raise, who gets a vacation, and who gets fired!
To speak to such people about God being their Father can be risky. It not only doesn't compute, it confuses and angers them. The reason isn't hard to understand. The very word, Father, may yet evoke the image of an abusive bully with a stick in his hand. Others think only of a void in their home, the never-present father whose selfish disregard for their needs hurts as much now as it did then.
It may be that on hearing the word Father you smell the stench of alcohol. Perhaps you feel the abusive hand, groping where it should not be, soon after you'd fallen asleep. God knows. He is keenly aware of how difficult it is for you to entrust your soul to another, when your former wounds have yet to heal.
But He is a Father unlike any other. His love transcends that of even the most caring earthly parent. Won't you allow Him to describe His love for you and the potential for your relationship together? It's all wrapped up in one word. Jesus used it. So can we.
N.B. Mike Bickle, in Passion for Jesus, describes other kinds of earthly fathers who may have warped our view of God as Father:
(1) The Distant or Passive Father
"The emotionally distant or passive father expresses his affections in a minimal way. He assumes you know he loves you, but he rarely speaks it. However, you don't know he sees or feels your pain or joy. When something wonderful or tragic happens, the passive father just nods his head. You begin to believe God is like that as well. He does not feel your pain or share your joy. He has little affections to express to you. You may reap strong emotional consequences if you are raised by this kind of father" (91).
(2) The Authoritarian Father
"The authoritarian father intervenes to stop what you are doing. He hands out a list of dos and don'ts. He interrupts you and says no to the things that are important to you. Your heart is quenched by this. This kind of father does not honor your individuality. He is not interested in your desires or goals - only his own. He wants no partnership or deep intimacy with you, but only to be obeyed" (91).
(3) The Abusive Father
"Abusive fathers inflict pain on their children deliberately, hurting them emotionally, mentally, physically and sometimes sexually. There is no greater torment in life than the torment at the hands of an abusive father. It not only destroys the child's natural emotions, but it deeply shapes his relationship with God" (91).
(4) The Absent Father
"The fourth type of father is one who is totally absent. Maybe he is the father you never knew, perhaps even dying before you were born. He is not like the passive father who is there yet does not communicate. He simply is never there. Therefore he never intervenes to help you in times of trouble. You feel totally abandoned and neglected by your earthly father. This hinders your ability to experience the presence of your heavenly Father" (91-92).
(5) The Accusing Father
"The fifth father is the most common example. He is the accusing father. He proclaims to love you with his whole heart, but he judges you continually at every failure. In his mind he is trying to motivate you to do right. He thinks if he points out your failures, you will be motivated to try harder next time. He rarely shows you affection or affirms you. If you grew up with this type of father, you will have great difficulty understanding the love of your heavenly Father because you will think God is always accusing you" (92).
A. God, the Father of Jesus
Jesus always spoke of God as "my Father," whether as a formal designation or an address to God in prayer. Closer study reveals that Jesus used this address in all his prayers, with one exception. From the cross he cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34).
The reason for this sole exception is not simply that Jesus was drawing from an Old Testament text in which the form of address was already supplied (Psalm 22:2). His cry, "My God," rather than "My Father," was a consequence of the judgment to which he was being subjected. Jesus evidently regarded his relationship to God as penal and judicial, not paternal and filial, as he hung on Calvary's tree for sinners. But in the other twenty-one instances where Jesus prayed, he always addressed God as his Father.
In the Old Testament, God was referred to in many ways, but rarely as Father. Apart from several texts in which God is compared with an earthly father (for example, Psalm 103:13; Proverbs 3:12; Jeremiah 31:20), the word is used of Him only fifteen times.
In seven instances God is conceived as Father of the nation Israel (Deut. 32:6; Isaiah 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 31:9; Malachi 1:6; 2:10). In five other passages God is called the Father of the king in fulfillment of one element of the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7:14; 1 Chronicles 17:13; 22:10; 28:6; Psalm 89:26). God is called Father of the orphaned in a song of praise for His tenderness (Psalm 68:5). In two cases where "my Father" is used as an invocation to God in prayer, it is a prayer, not of any single individual, but of the nation collectively (Jeremiah 3:4,19).
Judging from these passages, it was anything but characteristic of Old Testament spiritual life to refer to God as Father in personal prayer and communion. That depth of intimacy with the Almighty was rare indeed.
Yet, aside from the exception noted above, this is precisely what our Lord Jesus Christ did every time He prayed!
Still more significant is the fact that he used the word Abba when referring to the Father (Mark 14:36; most scholars agree that the Aramaic term abba lies back of the Greek pater). Abba was a term used in Judaism to express the intimacy, security, and tenderness of a family relationship. More specifically, it was a word that tiny children used to address their fathers. Of course, it didn't preclude courtesy and respect. But above all it was an expression of warm affection and trust.
We read in the Talmud that when a child is weaned it learns to say "abba" (daddy) and "imma" (mommy) (Joachim Jeremias, The Prayers of Jesus, 57). Again, the point is that "there is no analogy at all in the whole literature of Jewish prayer (specifically the Palestinian Judaism of our Lord's day) for God being addressed as Abba" (Jeremias, 57).
Joachim Jeremias argues that "to the Jewish mind it would have been disrespectful and therefore inconceivable to address God with this familiar word. For Jesus to venture to take this step was something new and unheard of. He spoke to God like a child to its father: simply, inwardly, confidently. Jesus' use of abba in addressing God reveals the heart of his relationship with God" (62).
B. God, the Father of every Christian
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Roman (8:15-16) and Galatian (4:6) Christians, saying that we as God's children may likewise address our Father in this way, the depth of that intimacy with God secured for us by the cross of Christ becomes joyfully evident.
* It is important to observe the connection between vv. 15 and 16 in Romans 8. The knowledge that we are sons of God is not a conclusion we draw from the fact that we cry "Abba! Father!" Our cry of "Abba!" is itself the result or fruit of that conviction which the Holy Spirit has evoked in our hearts. In other words, we first receive the Holy Spirit, who then produces in our hearts the unassailable confidence that we are God's children, an assurance that leads us to cry out, in the Spirit's power, "Abba! Father!"
Just think of it! The one, true God who beckons you with the promise of perfect love is none other than your Father, Abba! You need not fear an abusive grasp or a stiff-armed rejection. He longs to embrace you, to relieve your fears, to soothe the wounds inflicted by those who exploited your weakness.
There is joy unspeakable in this truth. How can I describe the comfort and thrill in knowing that the One into whose arms we rush and, as it were, on whose lap we sit, is our Father, our "Daddy." He, in the crook of whose arm we repose, is our Abba. No earthly father ever embraced his child with such affection and tenderness as does He who cradles you with a song.