Last month on Libero Network we talked about fathers. I got to read posts by different people describing their relationship with their dad - the good, the bad, what they'd learnt, how things got damaged, and how things were repaired. At the same time I was reading the book "Angry Conversations with God" (if you haven't read it, you should!) in which the author had a turbulent relationship with her Father that in turn had distorted her views of God. This is how the conversation went: God: [Susan's] father never even tried to like me, and I got saddled with his baggage. Susan: You're both called 'Father'. You should reconsider your branding strategy. God: I'm taking 'Father' back. Watch me...
I am blessed with what I consider to be a good and healthy relationship with my dad; however, I am well aware that sadly this is not the case for everyone – actually, this is not the case for many. With divorce rates on the rise, the concept of what it means to be a ‘man’ becoming more and more distorted, and the number of ‘hit and runs’ as they call them in Africa ( i.e. guy abandoning pregnant girl) increasing, it is no wonder that the word ‘Father’ seems to be attached with more negative connotations than positive.
We have kids and teenagers growing up with ‘present’, yet very absent fathers; with fathers who they watch emotionally, verbally, and physically abuse their mother, their siblings, and even themselves; fathers who are more dedicated to work or money or alcohol than to their families, and then there are those who grow up without a father at all…
And so it is no wonder that when the church says “God the Father” – it sends chills down some people’s spines. Suddenly, God is associated with domestic battles, emotional scars, lies & abandonment, and drunken rampages.
But this is not God at all.
And yet we can’t blame people for viewing Him this way. As Christian Psychiatrist Gerald May said in his book “Will & Spirit” (another great read):
The attitudes of both men and women toward the image of God-as-Father are always colored by the experiences they have had with their own human fathers.
Even if one’s father was not abusive or absent in any way, fathers are still only human, and as such, they have their strengths and their weaknesses, which we tend to apply directly to our concepts of God as well. As Gerald May also explains:
If, for example, one had a very stern and judgmental father, one will likely project such qualities onto the image of God. Often this will result in a strong reaction against that image. It is also possible that one might invest the God image with qualities directly opposite to those exemplified by the human father in the hope of achieving some compensatory balance. Similarly, if the human father was emotionally cold or distant, subsequent attitudes toward God can be determined by one’s defensiveness against abandonment.
Human love between fathers and sons has so often and so characteristically been contaminated by power struggles and competitiveness that it is almost impossible for this not to influence their relationships with God-images.
And so we have a God who has been associated with this term ‘Father’, and had fathers fulfilled their role as intended this would not be an issue, but because we have gone and F*d (excuse my language) it up, God, at no fault of His own, is now left with a tarnished ‘brand’. It’s kind of like how my brother boycotted Pepsi when Britney Spears became their spokesperson – was it really Pepsi’s fault? Ok, maybe that’s not the best example…
Here’s what we need to realize – we need to realize that fathers are only human. And, like I mentioned before, as such they are prone to their strengths and their weaknesses – and for some, the weaknesses overtake the strengths. But this is not God’s fault. And we need to realize that, *News Flash* God is not human. And thus to apply human characteristics to Him and think that we can, in essence, determine who He is based on our experiences with our own fathers is, in essence, to create God in our own image. And we all know where that leads.
So in short, I don’t think that God should change His branding strategy. After all, Pepsi didn’t change their name after Britney shaved her head (OK still not the best analogy…) Instead, we need to change the way we apply the word ‘Father’. Rather than take the term ‘Father’ as it relates to our earthly dads and apply all of that baggage to God, we need to take the term ‘Father’ as it applies to God and the example that He sets and apply it to how earthly fathers should be – and if you are a dad, how you should be. No one is perfect, I know, but just because one cannot successfully be as perfect of a Father as God is, doesn’t mean one should not strive to be as much.
So rather than copping out and taking the easy route and sticking God with our Fathers’ baggage, let’s look at it how it really is: God was here first (this is no matter of ‘the chicken or the egg’, here); He claimed the name ‘Father’ first, and anyone who comes along after Him should apply it under His standards, not the other way around.
Rather than making God out as a ‘man-ly’ Father, let’s start seeing our Fathers become Godly men.
And watch God take ‘Father’ back…
My posts on Fathers for Libero Network last month: