Finding the Father’s Face: A Parenting Pilgrimage

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In this week leading up to Father’s Day, we celebrate dads and acknowledge the difficulty of their vital role in this fallen world. Throughout the week we hope to encourage dads who want to demonstrate the steadfast love of the Father to their own children.

Faint footsteps pitter patter on the wood floor. Bedhead crowns the cuteness of crusty-eyed little ones as they make their morning debut. I consume the third and fourth sips of the day’s inaugural cup of coffee before I savor their snuggles.These moments are some of the best when it comes to being a dad of kids still young enough to want to hug you in the early morning light.

Being a father has been an exquisite joy as well as a harrowing undoing. Like peeling a new potato, God removes the dirty skin of our hearts to lay bare a clean surface for fresh use and holy benefit. The Spirit skillfully applies steady pressure in the sweet renewal of sanctification, sapping the strength of our selfishness like maple syrup pooling in a tin bucket. As fathers, we are pressed into form as the home’s under shepherd, which, if willing and submissive, we will become. This perplexing position, for which no one is fit, thrusts a father into the mystery of the Father Himself.

“What kind of parent is God?”[1] Matt Canlis asks in his book Backyard Pilgrim: Forty Days At Godspeed. What kind of parent we perceive God to be shapes and fundamentally informs what type of father we will endeavor to be. But what we know too well is that our perspective of the parenthood of God is fraught with peril. We have inevitably grasped and gathered faulty notions like a toddler aimlessly grocery shopping just out of sight of her preoccupied mother.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). From the get-go in Scripture, we are introduced to God as Creator and as Ruler, and so He is. But it is telling that when Christ’s disciples ask Him how they should pray, Jesus begins by calling God “our Father who art in heaven.” This tells us that, though God is certainly Ruler, He is most essentially “Father.” And a benevolent and affectionate one at that.

Well, how do we make sense of this? Many of us have experienced bad, selfish, and even cruel fathers that are poor copies of the Archetype. To say that God is my Father, my heavenly Father, is at least confusing, if not insufferable. Like the distraught child actor Otis in the recent movie Honey Boy (2019) we may have had fathers who only hang around for their own benefit: “You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t pay you.” “Ruler” sounds like a more apt title for God because our own fathers have behaved like infantile autocrats. These experiences undercut our experience of a Father who claims to be altogether different.

Michael Reeves identifies the challenge as well as the great potential of conceiving of God fundamentally as Father when he writes,

“But – if I can make the jump – the Father is called Father because he is a Father. And a father is a person who gives life, who begets children. Now that insight is like a stick of dynamite in all our thoughts about God. For if, before all things, God was eternally a Father, then this God is an inherently outgoing, life-giving God. He did not give life for the first time when he decided to create; from eternity he has been life-giving.”[2]

God is a God of love. He is love. He is the Father of Mercies. It’s who He is and has always been from eternity past. It’s what He’s best at. Affection oozes from our God and has the holy potential to undo every ill and make the all the sad things untrue. His face beams with the radiant light of amorous ardor over His children. If only we could believe this! If only we could be transformed by this!

Truly, a gospel with an affectionate, generous, and forgiving Father at the center is a hard sell. We hear Admiral Ackbar’s realization ringing in our ears: “It’s a trap!” Guarded, we know that, if we are certain of anything, we won’t expose ourselves to disappointment and deep pain again.  Our father’s failures have obscured and distorted our Father’s face indelibly. Who would dare trust a father? What insane person would become a father?

This is what every father encounters as he attempts to parent his own kids. Oftentimes, he lacks an example to draw from due to his father’s absence or sins of omission. Other times, his father’s poisonous influence has set the stage for Dr. Jekyll to turn into Mr. Hyde in his own fathering. What does one do when Hyde takes over – when the world is upside down despite our strongest resolve to set things right?

I am convinced that only the Spirit can set us right in this regard. The Spirit of the Son, who knows the Father intimately – who, in fact, is one with the Father, must convince us of what our Dad is really like. Without this revelation and spiritual persuasion, we will remain dry-throated, gasping in the desert in our own pain and orphancy. Jesus, if nothing else, would have us know His Dad. In fact, that’s why Jesus came:

O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:25-26)

Jesus has come to invite us into the eternal Triune dance of love. Jesus relishes knowing the Father more than anything. He wants to reinvent our conception of fatherhood by showing us the heavenly Father for who He is, by helping us forgive our earthly fathers, and by redeeming our own fathering.  In Christ Jesus there is hope for us as fathers. What good news!

Check back tomorrow for some practical steps dads can take to pursuing godly fatherhood.

 

[1] Canlis, Matt. Backyard Pilgrim: Forty Days at Godspeed. (Wenatchee, WA: Godspeed Press, 2020), 22.

[2] Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012), 24.

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