Technically speaking, all of us have a dad. Some of you have great dads. Others of you had great dads. For these two groups, your association with the idea of “dad” is positive.

For many of you, however, some of the greatest pain in your life comes from your relationship with your father. Maybe he was never there; maybe he abandoned you and your family; maybe he hurt you or your mother. Or maybe it wasn’t even his fault—he died early and his absence left a gaping hole in your life.

One of our church members, Jonathan Edwards (not the Puritan), has written an article about the difficulty he’s had in calling God “Father” because of the difficult relationship he had with his own father. He writes:

“I was 25 years old before I could say the word ‘father’ while praying, because of the kind of relationship—or lack thereof—that I had with my dad. It didn’t roll off my tongue the way it did for many of my Christian friends …. How could I come to God without fear when I had been scared to go home whenever Dad was there? How could I understand God’s love and faithfulness when Dad left town because he loved something, or someone, more than me? How can God be a mighty fortress of protection when Dad hit instead of hugged?”

Unfortunately, this is the experience of a lot of people in our society. As Edwards indicates, our relationship with our earthly fathers has a powerful and formative influence on our understanding of God.

This isn’t just anecdotal, either. Sociologists have tracked this for years. In Families and Faith, for instance, sociologist Vern Bengston demonstrates that the single most important factor in whether a child adopts the faith of the parents is the quality of that child’s relationship to the father.[1] Eric Metaxas pointed out that almost all the famous atheists of modernity—Freud, Nietzsche, Sartre, Hume, Bertrand Russell, Madalyn Murray O’Hare—had one thing in common: an absentee father or a traumatic relationship with their father.

No less than Sigmund Freud noted, “Nothing is more common than for a young person to lose faith in God when he loses respect for his father.”[2]

Over the course of the next four days, I want to identify four types of father wounds[3] to show how Jesus came to heal those wounds. Isaiah identifies Jesus as the “Everlasting Father” (Isaiah 9:7) because he would be to us the kind of dad that we’ve always craved. Isaiah wasn’t getting confused about the Trinity (Jesus, the Son of God, is not God the Father); he was saying something about Jesus’ relationship to us. In his compassion and tenderness toward us, Jesus would be like the father we’ve always longed for.

Far too many of us continue to judge our heavenly Father by our earthly one. It’s time, instead, that we evaluate our earthly father by our heavenly one. Only when we flip the script like this can we begin to heal from the wounds and disappointments left by our earthly dads, whether they were amazing or atrocious.

Come back tomorrow for father wound #1: “The Never Satisfied Dad.”


 

[1] Families and Faith, Vern Bengtson, Norella M. Putney, and Susan Harris, 76.

[2] Eric Metaxas, Life, God, and Other Small Topics: Conversations from Socrates in the City, (London: Penguin Books, 2012), 88-93.

[3] I borrow these categories from a book called Father Factor: How your Father’s Legacy Impacts Your Career.