None of us have a perfect understanding of God as our Father. Our perspective on the father-child relationship can be the very cause of the problem. Often our thinking is distorted by the relationship with our earthly fathers, particularly if that relationship has been painful, damaging, or difficult. When we’ve been hurt, abused, or neglected we can think God is out to do the same.
As Christians, we want to have a fuller comprehension of our perfect heavenly Father and our relationship with Him as His children. We also need our thinking about God, and ourselves, to be true and accurate. When we’re on the right track with our understanding, then our emotional responses to God our Father will be more positive. We will know we are beloved children, and overall we will be spiritually healthier.
So, how do we get past negative thinking about our heavenly Father and overcome the inaccurate way we think God feels about us? Let’s step through the Bible to help correct our mindset.
God the Father in the Old Testament
References to God as a father are not totally devoid in the Old Testament, but they are few and far between. When God is referred to as Father, it is to the nation of Israel and then in the context of Creator, as in Deuteronomy 32:6: “Is this the way you repay the Lord, you foolish and unwise people? Is he not your Father, your Creator, who made you and formed you?” Israel is also called God’s firstborn son, as in Jeremiah 31:9: “I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.”
Then, if God speaks about Himself as Father to individuals, it is specific people: “‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts,” God said to David, “for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father” (1 Chronicles 28:6).
Moving from the Old Testament into the New Testament, we discover the introduction of God the Father is significantly more apparent, especially in the gospels.
God the Father in the Gospels
Father is the predominant way Jesus refers to God. This is not surprising bearing in mind that Jesus is the Son of God. What is unique, says Robert Stein in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, is that God as Father was not just a way Jesus taught his disciples to address God; it was the way. What’s more, Jesus called God “Abba” which implies intimacy in the relationship with God.
We should pause here a moment to think about what this instruction meant to the disciples and followers of Jesus, because it is likely they had never addressed God in this way before.
N.T Wright in his book Simply Christian says by the time of Jesus, and perhaps for some centuries before, the people of Israel had known God by the special name YHWH, which we pronounce Yahweh, but did not speak it out loud. Wright goes on to say that the name YHWH — I am who I am — suggests God cannot be defined in terms of anything or anyone else.
If we struggle in our understanding of God as our Father, then we can take comfort that this way of referring to God was just as foreign and radical to Jesus’ disciples and the people of that time.
Nevertheless, God the Father is taken up by Paul in his letters.
God the Father in the Letters of Paul
It is not surprising that the Apostle Paul continued Jesus’ teaching of addressing God as our Father. “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” is common throughout Paul’s letters. (Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, Colossians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, Philemon 1:3 for example.)
Now, however, the relationship with God the Father is not as Creator, as in Deuteronomy 32:6, but through a connection with Jesus. This is how the early Christians understood their relationship with God the Father, just like we do today.
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God the Father in Our Lives Today
Through belief in Jesus Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit, we have been adopted into God’s family as His sons and daughters. Romans 8:15 tell us “the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’”
As we think about this special relationship with God, we should remember our heavenly Father is not human (Numbers 23:19). “God is spirit” says John 4:24. Yet because God is Spirit, this can make Him difficult to relate to. It is a natural tendency to turn to examples of human fathers for our comprehension. This, we know, can trip us up. There is, however, one human we can look to — one who is fully man and fully God.
Jesus gives us a true picture of our perfect heavenly Father.
If we focus on Jesus, we will know the love, compassion, and safekeeping of God our Father.
Jesus has made known the character of God the Father through His life on earth and particularly His words and actions towards people.
So, what can we learn from Jesus that helps us correct a distorted view of God our Father?
What Jesus Shows Us about God Our Father
Jesus gave dignity to people deprived of their worth. He healed lepers so they could re-enter society (Matthew 17:11-14). He healed a woman hemorrhaging blood so she was no longer ritually unclean and could return to a normal life (Luke 8:43-47). Jesus restored a demon-possessed man to his right mind (Mark 5:1-15), and acquitted a woman caught in adultery (John 8 :3-11).
When your dignity has been taken away through verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse, then remember God your Father spends time with those humiliated and disgraced by their conditions and restores their self-respect.
Jesus showed overwhelming compassion to individuals He encountered and crowds who followed Him. He felt pity not only for their spiritual state but their physical conditions too. Even when wanting solitude, Jesus continued to preach, heal, and drive out demons as the people clamored for Him (Matthew 14:12-14, Mark 1:35-39, Mark 6:30-34).
When all you’ve known is an absent father – whether due to death, work, or divorce – and you question your heavenly Father’s care for you, then be reminded that God never turns you away when you need Him.
Jesus responded intimately to those who needed Him. He led a blind man by the hand away from the villagers before putting His spit on the man’s eyes and healing him (Mark 8:22-25). He shooed out the crowd to be alone with a girl and her family before taking her hand and bringing her back to life (Matthew 9:23-25).
When your father has shown you little or no affection or attention, remember your heavenly Father does not keep you at arm’s length.
Jesus began his ministry announcing the Good News and the time of God’s favor (Luke 4:16-19). If your own father has been authoritarian or stern with you and you fear reprisals for disobedience, then remember you are living in the time of God’s favor when, through faith in Jesus, you are given freedom.
Ultimately, Jesus showed God’s love for us through His death. If you’ve never felt truly loved by your earthly father, remember how God sent His one and only Son, Jesus, to die for you because He loves you. As Romans 8:39b says “nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.”
Our understanding of God our Father may be flawed, but when we look to Jesus, and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can more fully know God as our good Father.
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Rachel Britton is a British-born writer, author, and speaker whose passion is to help others become comfortable and confident in their conversation with God. Rachel holds a Masters in Religion from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Her blog “Praying Naturally” offers an extensive library of free prayer resources to help you deepen and develop your prayer life. Rachel is wife to Colin and mom to three young adults. She cannot live without a mug of English tea. Connect with Rachel on Facebook.