This Sunday is Fathers’ Day. Have you bought your dad a card yet? It can be quite a challenge, can’t it? Unless your dad spends his life fishing, playing golf or drinking beer, finding a card with the right sort of message or even picture can be a pretty thankless task. And as one of my friends pointed out last year, it’s even harder if your dad wasn’t the ‘World’s Best Dad’. Tradition, culture and the command to ‘honour your father and mother’ demand that a card must be sent, but how do you find an anodyne one that enables you to maintain the relationship without actually lying?
Struggle though this is, I think it comes firmly under the category of #FirstWorldProblems! The bigger issue by far is the struggle that so many people have to accept God’s offer of fatherhood when their human fathers have let them down so badly. When your experience of a father is an unpredictable tyrant, or a mostly-absent disciplinarian, or someone who routinely breaks his promises, or simply someone who had little time and less encouragement for you, it can be all-but-impossible to imagine a different kind of model. This can be an issue for us, and it can be an issue for our friends who we are trying to talk to about faith.
A report out this week from the Centre for Social Justice revealed that there are nearly two million single parent families in the UK, and around a million children are growing up with no contact with their fathers. Quite apart from the financial difficulties this can put families under, the emotional and developmental wounds caused by this abandonment cut extremely deeply, and can be crippling for life.
It can be tempting, when dealing with such a sensitive issue, simply to veer around it. There is so much to discover about God, perhaps it would be easiest to just avoid mentions of His fatherhood and focus on the many other wonderful aspects of His character.
Yet one of the key differences between the living God and all other gods is that He doesn’t just deserve worship and dispense justice, He desires relationship. And not just any relationship; the relationship of a father to his beloved child.
This is not just a nice additional extra, but a core aspect of His identity and of the status we automatically and irrevocably hold when we put our faith in Him. We do Him, ourselves and our friends a great disservice if we avoid talking about it and living in the light of it.
We need to understand and explain what His kind of fatherhood really means. He is a father who is never distant, He is interested in your every achievement and concerned about your every hurt. He will discipline you, but with love and a gentle hand. He always keeps His promises. He will sit and listen to you for hours, and will whisper words of love and affirmation in your ear. Anything you wish your father had been, He is – and more than you could ever imagine.
It’s not a simple, quick-fix of course. The enemy would much prefer us to believe the bad stuff about God, and to project onto Him all the negative associations we have of the word ‘father’. Silence won’t help – he’ll keep whispering his lies, and trying to ignore them just allows them to take root. The only solution is to keep countering the lies with the truth. It’s easier to believe the bad stuff, unless it is getting drowned out by good stuff day after day after day.
This Fathers’ Day, honour your earthly father (in your heart, even if you can’t do it in person), whether he deserves it or not, and revel in the perfect love of your heavenly Father, who always deserves it.