I could be accused of being a daddy’s girl. Besides the obvious fact that we share the same career path, there are many other ways I take after my dad. Both my Pappa and I are perfectionists with high expectations of ourselves and those around us. My love for music has largely been influenced by my dad, as well as the tendency to take the leadership role in a group situation to ensure that the project runs smoothly.
I know I am very blessed to have this special bond with my natural father. My heart is full of memories of playful afternoons in the pool as well as deep dinner table discussions regarding faith and the tough decisions in life.
Russell Moore describes the relationship between natural fatherhood and our relationship with God, the Father in his book “Adopted for life”.
“The Bible tells us that human families are reflective of an eternal fatherhood (Eph 3:14-15). We know, then, what human fatherhood ought to look like on the basis of how our Father God behaves toward us. But the reverse is also true. We see something of the way our God is fatherly toward us through our relationships with human fathers. And so Jesus tells us that in our human father’s provision and discipline we get a glimpse of God’s active love for us.”Adopted for Life by Russell Moore
I am fully aware that this loving father-child relationship has become more the exception than the rule. In general, fatherlessness is a devastating crisis across the globe. In South Africa alone over 60% of children grow up in homes without fathers. In ten percent of these cases, the father is deceased, while 50% of the fathers are alive but not present in their children’s lives. Many other children live in households where they are abused or have a strained relationship with their fathers.
In this article Vance Fry reflects on how tragic it is that such a beautiful facet of God’s character –“that He is not a distant, impersonal ruler, but a warm and welcoming papa – is often tainted by the weaknesses of human fathers.”
Regardless of the nature of our relationship with our natural father, every one of us has the opportunity to have a special relationship with our Heavenly Father. In my own life, I have found that getting to know God as a loving Father has greatly impacted my relationship with him and strengthened my faith in a deep way.
Many of us have the privilege of celebrating our fathers this weekend. This is a very special opportunity to reflect on the character of our Heavenly Father as we see his love reflected in the men who have done their best to love us and raise us.
God chose you to be his child
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.Romans 8:14-17
Jesus makes reference to God as our father at least 150 times. The religious leaders at the time found it shocking that he could refer to God as a loving “Abba, Father” in such a familiar way, especially as Jesus teaches us to pray to “our Father in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). He invites us to approach the father and teaches us about the characteristics of God, the Father.
Scholars have debated the true meaning of the term “Abba Father” and have deduced that it is not necessarily the same as the term “daddy”, but rather a familial term of respect as would be used by an adult child. “Abba” could be interpreted as “my Father” which insinuates a sense of closeness since followers of Christ have been adopted into God’s family. Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we have been made true sons and daughters of God (2 Corinthians 6:18), the Father and we are no longer strangers. We have done nothing to earn this adoption, yet God gives us full rights to his inheritance as family, not just as guests.
What exactly are the characteristics of God, the Father? How do these aspects of my relationship with him help us to grow in love for the Lord?
Our Father is Loving
Natural fathers cannot choose their children, yet they can choose to love them unconditionally with all their flaws and eccentricities. I’m sure I have disappointed my dad, and just like any child, I must have been disobedient at some point (I don’t recall many of these instances being the Miss Prissy that I am) but he still loves me to this day. Fathers are not traditionally particularly good at expressing their love for their children with words or embraces as mothers do, but they do show it in many other ways most of us only begin to appreciate as we get older.
God the Father chose to love us when we were strangers and sinners – a lost cause. He gave us everything we could possibly need to have a wonderful carefree life in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve threw it all away due to their human weaknesses. Nevertheless, He did not stop loving us. After the Fall of mankind in Genesis 3, God already set in place a plan to redeem us. This is the most loving aspect of our Heavenly Father’s character. He chose us and is working out his plan of salvation which he set in motion by sending Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:4-6 we read about the great love with which God the Father loved us and in 1 John 3:1-2 we are reminded of the “manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the children of God.”
God doesn’t need us. He is almighty, omniscient, and omnipresent. Yet he chose us and wants to have a relationship with us and wants to save us.
Our Father wants to save us
Every good Father wants only the best for his children, but most natural fathers would have a limit to how much ungrateful behaviour they would tolerate before giving up on their kids. On the contrary, our Father in heaven has boundless grace and mercy for us. When we were still sinners, he sacrificed Jesus Christ on the cross to take on our sins and wash away all our blame. We deserve damnation as mankind, yet he offers us undeserved grace (Psalm 116:5) and mercy. The Father wants to save us (Zephaniah 3:17) and is slow to anger through his great loving kindness (Psalm 145:8). Our Father has endless compassion for those who fear him (Psalm 103:8-10).
This love goes beyond our human understanding. Very few of us would sacrifice our lives for the person we love the most, much less for an evil person. Yet our heavenly Father is forgiving time and time again while erasing all debt without keeping a record of our sins and weaknesses. “The Lord’s loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
Our Father corrects us
In most households it falls on the dad to really discipline naughty children. I’m sure most of us have heard the ominous words “Just wait till your dad gets home”. In most cases this discipline is borne out of love for the children and a yearning to see them develop into responsible adults.
Similarly, our God also lovingly corrects us. In Hebrews 12:3-11 we learn more of the Father’s discipline and his purpose behind it. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
We should recognize the ways God’s Spirit corrects us in our daily lives in our decisions and interactions with others. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)
Our Father takes care of us
In the traditional family, the father takes care of his beloved by working to provide for them and ensure that they have all they need to thrive. In the natural sense, it, unfortunately, means that many of us did not see our dads at home that often, but we knew they were working for our good. Even in the evening and weekends when my father was out doing the Lord’s work, I knew he was taking care of others spiritually by sharing his gifts, and therefore being a blessing to our household.
Scripture is filled with reminders about how our Heavenly Father takes care of us, even when it does not feel that way sometimes. In Matthew 7:11 we learn of how our Father sends good gifts to those who ask him, and James reminds us that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?Matthew 6:26
Our Father is our refuge and our strength. (Psalm 46:1 and Psalm 91:1-2) He is our healer (Exodus 15:26), our Shepherd (Psalm 23:1-3) and our Helper (Isaiah 41:10).
Our Father grants us wisdom
One of the biggest gifts I recognize in my dad is his great wisdom. Since I was a young girl, I have respected the way he could help me reason through tough decisions and lead me to discover the correct way on my own, by pointing out a different perspective I might have overlooked. Many people have since come to him for guidance which makes me immensely proud to call him my Pappa. This wisdom must come from the Spirit and can be compared to the wisdom our Father sends on our way through his Word which is the ultimate source of wisdom and truth. (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
It is a great blessing to have a father in your life (biological or otherwise) who can emulate the characteristics of our Father in heaven. It is true that none of us is perfect, and as we grow older, we recognize the shortcomings in these men we have come to love and respect as leaders in our families and communities.
But our Heavenly Father is perfect, and his love is perfect. He has endless mercy for us and wants to spend eternity with us. Jesus is with the Father, preparing a place for us so that we can be with God for all time (John 14:2-3). In the meantime, we should live as chosen children and not as lost orphans who have the greatest inheritance waiting for us in our future. We can exemplify this childhood by trusting in our almighty Father and sharing the beauty of his character with the world around us. Then we can look forward to the day our Father looks at us fondly and pronounces “This is my beloved [child], with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
Happy Father’s Day!