Part 2 (of 3)
Any plot to eradicate Christianity must involve a single, crucial step. Restricting freedom of worship won’t work. Persecution always backfires. Exerting pressure may weed out cultural Christians but strengthens the resolve of true disciples. All that’s needed is to redefine “love”. Simply shift social consciousness from the word’s source and foundation – the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. Associate sharing the Gospel with “imposing” beliefs. Equate moral standards with intolerance. Attribute natural disasters and childhood cancer to God. Lavish praise on heroes for cleaning up the mess – disaster relief and miraculous healings. Brand the exclusivity of Jesus bigotry. Label speaking His name in public (spiritual) harassment Credit secular activists with rescuing innocent victims from Christian “extremists”.
Any counter offensive must involve a return of the word to its rightful owner – and repentance for enabling its abduction. However, the world is not likely to relinquish its hold on a term with such tremendous power. In the name of love, any lifestyle or personal choice is shielded from criticism. Politicians purchase votes. Media condemns non-conformance. Corporations generate profits. Thankfully, those powers are no match for Jesus, who reassures us, “…take heart! I have overcome the world.” And it was Jesus who modeled a framework for understanding the nature and context of love in its intended, purest form – that of a perfect Father. Failure to follow our Savior’s lead, to understand and convey that image of His Father’s character, has led to rampant misconceptions of who God – and what love – is.
The Essence and Entirety of the Father’s Character
Anyone who comes to Christ becomes a child of the ultimate Father. Viewing God’s love in light of how a fantastic dad loves his children reminds us that nothing can separate us from His love. Adults who had a good dad look back in their childhoods and know he loved them even when he gave them the freedom to fail, when he occasionally let them suffer consequences of mistakes, or when he disciplined them for doing wrong. We retrospectively judge dads based on how they treated us, how they made us feel, how much time they spent with us, and how they helped us grow up – not what they did or didn’t give us. Yet many avowed atheists rejected Christianity and former Christians “deconstructed” because God didn’t do something they wanted or allowed them to endure hardship when they were younger. If we realized God is a loving Father, we wouldn’t be so quick to discount or dismiss Him when things don’t go our way. Instead, we would live more like a faithful child, thankful for the Father’s provision and guidance through good times and bad.
Every aspect of God’s character is contained within the framework of God as our loving Father. We understand that all His attributes fall under the umbrella of love only when we see Him as a Father. Many argue that God is not just a God of love, but also of holiness and justice – viewing each component as independent. Their point is that accepting the Bible’s contention that “God is love” conveniently ignores His intolerance of sin to appease a society demanding tolerance. However, when viewed through the prism of fatherhood, we acquiesce to the truth of Scripture – that God’s patience, goodness and mercy as well as His justice, anger and discipline are entirely wrapped up in His role as a loving Father. Yes, He is fiercely protective of His children – but isn’t that true of any great dad? Yes, He punishes his children when they disobey – but isn’t that true of any great dad? Yet non-believers shun God and pastors focus on the New Testament because they do not associate God’s “intolerant” actions in the Old Testament with fatherly inclinations. They are more accepting of Jesus than His Father, not grasping that They are One, meaning Jesus is completely consistent with every facet of His Father’s nature – all of which are encapsulated in His love. We can’t forget that it was the Father who sent His Son Jesus to rescue His children.
An important disclaimer is not to view God through the lens of our earthly dads. Some of us had difficult experiences with our dads that cloud our image of a flawless Father. Dads are not fair representations of who God is or role models for how God should be. His ways are not our ways. The Lord operates in a realm we cannot fathom so we cannot project onto God our feelings, expectations or standards related to our dads. How can we pass judgment on God for His decisions when we can’t comprehend His omniscient and omnipotent perspective? His understanding of what needs to happen for the most good to be done for the most people far exceeds our own. What we do so imperfectly and temporally as dads for the good of our kids, the Lord does perfectly and eternally on a global scale for all His children.
The Many Ways We’re Children of a Heavenly Father
Correlating God’s love to that of an amazing dad explains and illuminates so much about how the Lord feels about us and how we should relate to Him. God is fatherly in his approach toward those who follow His Son’s lead of being a faithful child. Kids with great dads, like children of a heavenly Father, experience unconditional love, confident in the knowledge that they…
- …have a special place in the family (1 Peter 2:9) – A child from different household doesn’t call a friend’s parent “dad”. Youth today search aimlessly for a sense of belonging, finding acceptance from other spiritual orphans rather than in the waiting arms of a Father.
- …can always come home (Luke 15:17-24) – Jesus tells the prodigal son parable to reassure us that no matter how badly we mess up, it’s never too late to repent and return to the Father with full privileges as His child.
- …are part of something far bigger than themselves (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) – God loves the whole world, but only Christians have dual citizenship in a democracy and a Kingdom, brothers and sisters of the same Father.
- …are heirs (Romans 8:17) – Children inherit a dad’s wealth and our Father is a King who owns the cattle on 1,000 hills so all He has is ours, including eternal life.
- …understand where they came from (Genesis 1:27) – Most of us know who our dad is, just as we all inherently know who created us because we carry God’s image, even “atheists”.
- …are completely dependent (Matthew 18:3) – Infants are helpless and Scripture tells us we must enter the Kingdom as little children of our Father, humble and poor in spirit. Governments and businesses try to divert that dependence for power and profit.
- …never want to disappoint their dad (Matthew 25:21) – The worst words a dutiful son can ever hear from dad are “I’m disappointed in you” as opposed to the Father’s words “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
- …want to make dad proud (Isaiah 49:8) – Some grown-ups still seek approval from a dad they could never please whereas God’s acceptance hinges simply on restoration of our broken relationship with the Father through His Son Jesus.
- …appreciate advice from dad (2 Timothy 3:16) – Since God is our Father, the Bible is His words of wisdom spoken directly to you as His child, bringing back fond memories of a life-changing conversation with dad when you were young.
- …have rules to follow (Matthew 22:37-38) – At someone’s house, it’s “their roof, their rules”. We’re living in a world God created so if we’re legitimate children then we are subject to His laws, including Jesus’ example and commandment to love His Father.
- …may disobey but can be forgiven (Romans 8:32-39) – Nothing can separate us from the love of our Father just as breaking a dad’s rules does not sever that relationship.
- …will face discipline (Proverbs 3:12) – A loving dad punishes to teach valuable lessons, not as retribution, which is the same spirit in which our Father corrects His children.
- …will be provided for (Acts 14:17) – Consider replacing the distant “God as Owner, you as steward” generosity mandate with a loving “God as Father, you as child” paradigm.
- …can implicitly trust dad (Proverbs 3:5-6) – Knowing a caring dad would never intentionally harm his children illustrates how our Father ultimately wants what’s best for us regardless of our current circumstances.
- …can count on dad to always be there (1 Corinthians 6:19) – Picture the Holy Spirit as a houseguest we often rudely ignore. If you had a devoted dad during your childhood and he is your houseguest, could you imagine hardly spending any time with him?
- …will get bailed out if they’re in real trouble (Luke 1:67-79) – A dad rescues his child from life-threatening situations just as our Father sacrificed to save us from ourselves.
- …occupy a subordinate place in the pecking order (John 3:30) – Childlike faith in a dad looks up to him with a reverence that everyone should direct toward their Holy Father.
- …imitate their dad (John 15:4) – As we walk in the footsteps of our dads, even more so should we abide in the loving guidance of our Father and follow the path of His Son.
- …love what dad loves (John 13:34-35) – Children share dad’s interests. Discipleship reveals our Father’s interests, like serving the poor and urging reconciliation with Him.
- …teach others what dad taught them (Matthew 28:18-20) – We pass along lessons learned from dad and also have an opportunity to lead others toward our eternal Father.
- …defend the family’s honor and good name (1 Peter 3:15) – A child gets upset when people speak ill of dad, so when non-believers disparage God we need to be prepared to show how He is a wonderful Father.
- …look forward to seeing dad (Philippians 1:21-23) – The excitement about dad getting home after a long trip should reflect how we feel about one day seeing our Father in Heaven.
We may not have a solid relationship with our dads – and possibly never will. If we don’t have a relationship with our heavenly Father during this life, we can be certain we will not have one with Him after our death. However, if we understand our intended role as God’s children, we will see Him in His true, fatherly light and follow Him faithfully now and forever.
It’s Your Turn…
In the next (and final) post in this series, we’ll unpack how Christians and churches have contributed to the world’s redefinitions of “love” by not adequately couching and conveying God’s love as that of a Father. Please share any additional thoughts about how Christians could steer society back toward a Father whose love far surpasses any lesser “loves” we may pursue.