STRUGGLING WITH GOD AS "FATHER"
"Our Father in heaven." Not every Christian can (or does!) pray those words to God with ease. I've gotten a lot of questions lately by other Christians in the church regarding how to go about relating to God as "Father" when one has an understanding of a father that is so skewed, so damaged, so beyond repair. Many people grew up with an abusive father, negligent father, or an absent father. For some, tragedy struck and our fathers died way too early leaving some questions unanswered, conflicts unresolved, and memories never made. Thus, for countless squirming saints in the Church, the idea of having or even wanting an intimate relationship with God as “Father" is not only incomprehensible; it is altogether repulsive. Men are bad, corrupt, and fail. How on earth can I trust my heavenly Father? With things like this in mind, I’m often asked, “Alex, how can my image of God be healed?"
One of the most famous lines in the Bible is where Jesus taught us to pray "Our Father in heaven." And he didn't just teach us to pray those words in a disconnected vacuum; he took it further as he taught us to have an ongoing relationship with God understanding him to be good Father who provides for his children (Matt. 6:26), thus alleviating our daily worries about food, clothing, and shelter. So, for those that didn't have a human template to base this on, it is nearly impossible to grasp what Jesus is talking about, isn't it? So, why’d Jesus teach us to pray this way when he knew that so many of us would struggle? Does he just expect all of our daddy-issues to just vanish?
And the answer is no. Here's a couple of thoughts.
LOOK TO JESUS
First look to Jesus. At the Last Supper, Phillip said to Jesus "Show us the Father." And rather than parting the sky and pointing into heaven, Jesus said something no Jew would've ever dreamt of saying, "If you've seen me, you've seen the Father" (John 14:9). The writer to the Hebrews says, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being" (Heb. 1:3). There are many more places where the Bible makes it explicitly clear that Jesus is God and is the perfect representation of God the Father.
So what does that mean? How does that help heal my image of God the Father? It begins by understanding that every time you see Jesus doing something in the Bible, you are to think "God the Father is just like that." How does Jesus feel about hungry crowds? He feeds them. How does Jesus treat the woman caught in adultery? He forgives her and gives her her dignity back. And here's the deal – that's how God the Father is. So, if you're struggling with relating to God as your heavenly Father, I'd say start there. Start with Jesus.
SAYING STUPID THINGS AT FUNERALS
My good friend Elliot came down to Atlanta a couple of months ago and spent the whole day with me and Jana. As we were talking he said, "You know, people say really stupid things at funerals, don't they? Like, 'Well, they're in a better place now.' Or 'How are you doing?'" He's so right. People do say really dumb things in really hard places! Maybe it's out of the nervousness that fills the room where tragedy reigns. Maybe it's the classic savior-complex that we all have, wanting to save the day and make the pain go away?
The Bible certainly says that God is "Father to the fatherless” (Ps. 68:5). But here's some advice to Christians seeking to help, don't just jump to Psalm 68:5 so quickly. For many, this is a gunshot wound, not a scrape, and people need more than a pithy band-aid-theology that slaps a verse on deep-seated pain. God is a heavenly Father, not an earthly, biological father, and that painful truth becomes all the more real to those who are suffering. If someone's invited you into their pain, their struggle, first thank them that they'd be willing to let you into such a tender place in their life. It is no small thing to be speaking about God, someone's soul, and that relationship.
SOME MIRACLES TAKE A LIFETIME
So how do you heal one's image of God as father? You and I don't. But God can. That may sound trite, but it isn't. I'm convinced that the healing of one's image of God as Father takes time, patience, frustration, persistence, and vulnerability on behalf of the person who really wants that image of God healed. And it just may take a lifetime. If you're struggling, I'd say first look to Jesus and get your picture of God by looking at his Son. Second, you need to know that it is okay if this takes a long time. All Christians are on a journey and none of us have it all figured out. Third, being that you're processing so much, maybe tell your pastor or friend(s) how they could potentially help you in this area by asking you the right questions with the aim of teasing out what's going on in your head and heart. Questions like, "What do you mean by that statement?" "How does what Jesus said sit with you today?" "How can I be praying for you?"