Fathers are an important part of their children’s lives. Good dads can provide stability, protection and love in a child’s life. Unfortunately, fatherhood is a role often downplayed by popular media, where dads and father figures are frequently portrayed as bumbling idiots more often than they are a good father (think Homer Simpson or the ads for most cleaning products).
Fathers who are abusive, absent or apathetic can be incredibly damaging to a child’s view of themselves and their relationship with the world. A positive father figure, however, can provide a child with self-esteem, support and, importantly, a father‘s love.
In recent history, wars and work have disrupted traditional parental relationships, especially in Western societies. The world wars of the 1900s meant that a whole generation of children grew up fatherless. Those fathers who did come back were often unable to be present in a healthy way for their children as they were suffering from untreated post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health challenges.
As industrialised nations became more information-based and material driven, men began working longer hours and had less to do with raising children. Instead of children reaching a certain age and working in the family business, they did other things and missed out on a chance to work with or learn from their fathers in close proximity.
While some of this is thankfully changing, there is a danger in today’s world that children are raised by the TV or childcare as financial pressure means both parents work long hours and extra-curricular activities fill children’s lives.
Given some of this as background, it is little wonder that many people in today’s society have trouble relating to God.
Jesus Christ described God as His Father—an image that depicts close relationship and care. However, our perception of our earthly fathers can colour our perception of our heavenly Father. This can be positive, if we have good feelings towards our father, and can help us understand God’s love. But it can also be difficult. Let me give you a personal example.
As a kid, Dad’s time and attention were like gold to me. The chance to throw a ball or kick the footy with him was a real highlight. We would watch sport together, and at holiday times he would play in the pool or jump through the waves with us: special memories.
I remember getting a phone call from my dad soon after I had left home for college. One of our close family friends had lost their son. Dad finished the conversation by telling me how much he loved me and was proud of me. That one affirming act meant more to me at that moment than almost anything else. I’ve been lucky to have such a loving father.
Even so, as I grew older, my relationship with my father changed as I tried to set out into my life and establish my independence. We think quite differently, have very different skill sets and proficiencies. I could never do what he does for a job and I think he would say the same for me.
Living in different states meant that subconsciously, I slowly allowed distance to grow between us. Often, when we talked, he would ask me questions about things I didn’t want to talk about. So I would avoid calling him. What I’m learning as I grow older is while I resented the incursion on my freedom and the implications of the questions—a reminder of my procrastination—Dad asked out of love and genuine concern. He spoke from his knowledge and higher experience—something I could not see from my vantage point. I hated the distance and missed my dad, but found it hard to reconnect until I had dealt with things I knew he’d ask about.
A Father in heaven
I’ve noticed my relationship with God the Father can be similar. We’re afraid of the kinds of questions God will ask us so we avoid having the conversation. It can bring in guilt and we feel unworthy—try to fix things up in our lives so we can feel worthy to approach Him.
This is important because what we believe (or don’t believe) about God will inform every other part of our life and practice. Our perception of God can be incredibly uplifting or damaging for both ourselves and others, whether we claim to believe in Him or not.
If we see God as strict, judgemental and austere then we will treat others in that way. If we see God as Father—loving, sustaining, life-giving and providing—whose motives and ways we don’t always understand, but who always has our interests at heart, then we will treat each other (and ourselves) with more compassion. The Bible describes humans as made in the image of God, or like copies of Him, which means that each person is valuable.
A great theme explored by Christ Jesus’ disciple and biblical author John is the idea that God is love. Simply that. This is the picture of God the world needs to see.
Maybe your own father has fallen far short in your life. Maybe you’ve got painful memories and trauma. You may think that God is distant and uncaring or that He is angry with you or wants to punish you. That has not been my experience of God. I believe God truly does love us and wants what is best for us. Unlike an earthly father, God will not let us down or abandon us. Give God a chance today. Invite Him to be your Father and He will be there.
Jarrod Stackelroth is editor of Signs of the Times magazine and father of an energetic 15-month-old. He writes from Sydney, NSW, where he lives with his wife and daughter.