|Steve Biddulph’s article ‘The Big Talk with Dad’ (available on this site) is exceptionally moving. Many men will find it resonates loudly as they read it. Even those with what society would call ‘good’ fathers, will still know the moments of awkwardness, the communication that doesn’t quite click, and the issues that remain, long after you’ve grown up and moved away. If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend reading it before you go on with this thread.
The man in our lives
The Fatherhood of God is a powerful allusion. The references to God as Father number more than 230 in the source documents (one of those statistics that only someone with the Bible on CDROM can tell you!). Yet, for many people, at best, it is stripped of its power, while at worst, it is grotesquely distorted.
I am thinking of a young woman I know who, at the mention of fatherhood, can think only with shame and revulsion of the years of sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. How can she begin to understand the goodness of God, when the natural model she had was so debased?
The breach may not be as bad as that yet have a similar effect. I, like Steve, have waded into the subject of men and their fathers on more than one occasion, and been surprised by the results. The reaction of the men I talk to, ranges from a quizzical "I never really knew him" to a stony silence. Little wonder the allusion of a Father-God is lost on so many people.
Yet, from my reading of the source documents, it seems basic to any proper understanding of God, that he be understood first and foremost as Father. It was Jesus who taught his disciples to pray " Our Father..."
ABBA - beyond Bjorn
In fact, the very language used is reminiscent of a warm, affectionate relationship.
When Paul wrote to the Romans, he said "For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father." (from THE HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright c1973,1978,1984,1987 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.) Abba is an Aramaic word meaning father. I’m told it’s very much like our word "Dad".
It’s interesting Paul talks about the spirit of "sonship" as opposed to "fear". There are probably many men walking around today who can only speak of their relationship with their father in terms of fear, not in terms of affection.
When I think of the two great father songs of my generation, they are both negative. When Cat Stevens sang "Matthew and Son" he voiced the frustration of a new generation of sons and later, when Harry Chapin sang "Cat’s in the Cradle" he sang for those same sons, determined they would never make those mistakes with their kids.
The negative image of Father is hard to break out of – phrases such as "wait till your father gets home" are etched in our brains. We have heard plenty of the stern father, we have heard little of the loving, affectionate father. The great Christian writer, C S Lewis tells in his autobiography about the sharp contrast between his boyhood home, before and after the death of his mother. His later experiences with a distant and constricting father, left him with an intense longing for joy. Indeed, the book is called Surprised by Joy, and goes on to tell of the fulfilment he found in a personal relationship with Jesus in later life.
Life with Father
If Steve Biddulph’s statistics are right (and he has researched this far more than most of us), then only about 10 per cent of men have what could be described as a fulfilling relationship with their fathers. So you see it is not only my sexually-abused friend who has a problem with a right perception of God as father, it is about 90 per cent of us as well. We will come to it with our own memories of fathers, and see God through those eyes. That’s why it’s important to set those aside for a moment, and realise the perfect Fatherhood of God, even if the examples in our own life have not been good. For a start, look again at the teachings of Jesus and in particular, the story of the prodigal son. (Luke 15:11-32). When you read it, the first thing that strikes you is that it shouldn’t really be labelled the story of the Prodigal Son but the story of the Good Father. He is everything a good father should be:
Can you imagine a father like that? Some people long for such a relationship, where there is trust, reconciliation, love and acceptance. All those things, and more, are true of God the Father. If you don’t know that reconciliation, maybe it’s time you had the big talk with Dad.
he doesn’t try to cling on to his son – he gives him the freedom of his inheritance, even though he squanders it;
he is there to pick up the pieces when his son comes to his senses – he doesn’t reproach, he accepts him freely and forgives;
he is no kill-joy – when his son comes back, he celebrates.
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