God's Not Your Dad
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
One of the most potent images in Scripture and the church for our relationship with God is the metaphor of a parent and a child. It lies at the heart of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, as we address God in that prayer as Our Father.
At the same time, no metaphor is perfect… and there are ways in which thinking of God as Father can be not only unhelpful but also damaging. So, this week, I’d like to do a strange task and break the myth that God’s like your dad.
I want to start out by saying I have been blessed with an amazing father. My dad was the best man at my wedding and, though he’s certainly not perfect, he has been a great father throughout my life. So, for me, the image of God as father resonates with my experience of my own dad—someone who loves me no matter what, who will always be there for me, a person I can always come home to.
However, I’m keenly aware that not everyone has such a positive experience with their own father. And that can mean that this metaphor of God as Father can begin to undermine your own relationship with God.
For example, there are those whose father was abusive—either verbally or physically or even sexually. Not only is there profound trauma from being raised in an abusive household, but it can become the lens through which you view your relationship with God. And so, the words of God’s judgment in the prophetic books of Scripture, or Jesus flipping over the tables in the temple, all of this can bring back frightening memories of a dad who was out of control, pouring salt in those wounds.
For others, perhaps their father was distant. It could be an estranged relationship that has grown cold over the years or something much simpler than that. Perhaps your father was not someone who showed emotion, who told you regularly that he loved you. With that lens, God the father becomes a distant figure, far away in heaven, one who probably doesn’t know or care that much about you personally.
For still others, it could be that your father outright rejected you at some point in your life. Maybe you didn’t choose the right job or live up to your dad’s expectations in school or other aspects of your life. This is particularly difficult for those in the LGBTQIA+ community, who may have experienced this kind of rejection when they told their parents who they truly were or who they truly loved. And so, having experienced this rejection from your own parents it becomes difficult to imagine how God could even tolerate you… much less love and delight in you as you are.
It could be any kind of weakness, any kind of breakdown in your relationship with your own father that can undo your ability to resonate in a positive way with the image of God as Father.
The great evangelical preacher, Haddon Robinson, spoke powerfully in a sermon on the prophet Hosea once, saying (and this is a long quote, so bear with me):
I believe that [God’s love] is the hardest single thing for Christians to understand. I do certain things and I can get God to love me more. Some of you grew up in homes where you never heard your dad say he loved you. Some of you grew up in homes that were very perfectionist. You came home with three A’s and one B and your father would say, ‘How come you didn’t get four A’s?’ And so you worked hard, you got four A’s, you brought home four A’s and your parents would say, ‘Must be something wrong with the school system, you get A’s that easily.’ Never once did they commend you. Never once did they approve you. Some of you have daddies who have been dead fifteen years or more and you're still trying to earn their favor. Well, hear me: God is not your daddy. God does not play that game. God just loves you. And when you come to understand that God’s love is unconditional, that he does not love you because of what you are… that grips you, then you respond with worship and service and praise and love.
That’s the end of the quote.
I don’t know what your relationship with your own dad looks like. But if there are cracks in that relationship, if there are wounds you still carry… then perhaps its time to let that go, to be willing to hope, to trust, that God’s love is more than that. As Rich Mullins was fond of saying, there’s nothing you can do to make God love you less… but there’s also nothing you can do to make God love you more.
You are already entirely and absolutely beloved, adored, and cherished. And if you have trouble believing that, please come see me here at St. John’s Episcopal in Grand Have, so that this father, Father Jared, can wrap you in a hug and tell you that God’s love for you is indeed true, unconditional, and very real.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.