Jesus often referred to God as his Father, and encourages us to do the same. While there are many reasons in a more inclusive age not to call God our “Father,” there is much to be gleaned from this understanding. Rather than a Bible study, or something deeply theological, this is a personal reflection. I am away this week, so I miss my kids. I started reflecting that at the end of April I will be a father for nine years. My understanding of the role, who I am, and what I think of God as Father has developed along with this experience. I used to think of God as harsh, standoffish, and judgmental, ready to strike me down for misbehaving. Jesus brought relief to that perspective to me, but to “fear and love God” was not just as a form of respect in my life, but also one of duty and genuine terror. In becoming a father I’ve come to know God not as a divine judge who needs his righteous to be appeased, but as a Father who is much more intimate, loving, nurturing, kind, and hopeful than that.
As I think of how I interact with my own kids, what my goals are for them, what I think they should know about faith, life and the world – I think I get what God as Father is up to with each of us. I also tend to get Jesus a little bit more too. God (as Father) calls us children, each of us, by name. Think of that proposal – each of us as his kids. Cool. I’m certainly not the best father in the world, and I am far from perfect, but I seem to have different eyes than I used to when it comes to these young people my wife and I have been entrusted to nurture as a family. When my kids are home I want them to participate in what it means to be together – that means spending time together, talking together, working together, eating together, honing skills and fostering independence. It means breaking up fights and it means sometimes staying out of it so they learn how to sort things out on their own. We goof around. We laugh. We cook. We clean. I try (even thought I don’t always get it right) to teach them – not only how to stand up for themselves, and what we as a family believe in, but also to stand up for others and see the world around them for what it is – amazing and dangerous. I want to protect them. I want them to know to how to treat people fairly. I want them to see the world with eyes of compassion. I want them to see faith through me. I want them to know wherever they are they represent the family. I want them to follow through on what is expected of them. I don’t like it, but at times that means being stern. I hate yelling, but I’ve done it, and I’m sure I’ll do more of it as the years go on. I know that being a father means following through on consequences when they don’t meet expectations or the lesson they will learn is that I don’t care. I want them to know when they mess up I still love them. I want to console them when they have hurt feelings, or scraped knees. I want them to know that I love them no matter what. I tell them that constantly. I hope it sinks in. I want to know their friends. I want to hear about their day. I want them to know they can lean on me for strength when they need it. I want them to know they have that same strength when they feel like I am far away.
God is like that. I believe he is a Father like that – but far a better one than I could ever aspire to be. We talk in church a lot about sin and forgiveness, wrath and mercy but at the center of it – God is that Father at the end of the road, looking for us to come home, just like the prodigal in Jesus’ story (Luke 15:11-32). We fear a God ready to strike us down when he has finally had the last straw, when we finally are exposed as the frauds that we are, when we finally will get what we deserve. Yet all God wants for us is to sit down with him and share where we have been representing the family all day. He wants to teach us some more, correct us some more, assure us some more, love us some more. Sometimes that takes yelling. More often it takes patience, reminders, and showing us the right way to go, many, many times.
If this is who our Father is, the one Jesus called Father, it makes it a little more clear to me what Jesus is doing when he shows up in our lives. His life and death and resurrection are not about appeasing a wrath filled judge on high; Jesus came to represent the family. Baptism reminds us we are part of that family. His supper reminds us that we have a place at the family table. Jesus shows us the Father at the end of the road waiting, for too often we are self-concerned even to notice. The Father has been waiting. He wants us to know his strength in our lives, even when we feel far away.
One of my favorite things as a father is when I come home after I have been away. I don’t do it as much as many other dads do since my work is so local but the feeling is great every time. On school days when I’m at the bus stop the kids jump off, say hi, and run home to play. When I come home from a trip they tackle me, can’t stop hugging me, and fight over who gets to sit next to me after I set down my bag. Imagine what church could be like if we entered with that same expectation, knowing our heavenly Father just showed up, and we get to sit right beside him.
Our Father will be waiting for us by the road this Sunday.
I’m looking forward to it.
“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.” (Galatians 4:4-7)
Luther’s Small Catechism –
I believe in God the Father, creator of heaven and earth.
What does this mean?
I believe God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties.
In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and home, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property – along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. All this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all of this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.”
(“Luther’s Small Catechism,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1162.)