In painful circumstances, it can be a comfort to know that God works ‘for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28). The protagonist in ‘Evan Almighty’ comes to learn this when God tells him ‘Whatever I do, I do because I love you’ (Film Evan Almighty 2007).
Such words might echo those of our parents as we were growing up. Reprimands for speaking with our mouth full might feel harsh at the time, but retrospectively we are grateful. In the midst of life’s challenges, do we truly believe that God is for us? (Romans 8:31).
Knowing our true identity as a royal son or daughter of God changes everything. Yet the idea can be tainted by painful experiences of being fathered. We need to forgive our earthly fathers, strip away any negative associations with the word and ask how God fathers us. He’s certainly not got the attitude of Matlida’s father, Harry Wormwood, who calls his daughter a ‘waste of time’ (Film Matilda 1996). That we might readily admit. But that the Creator of the universe delights in us? Potentially harder to believe.
What exactly is God’s heart towards us as His children?
As a father, God is our strong defender, comforter, counselor, provider, encourager and instructor. [ (Psalm 46:1;68:5) (2 Corinthians 1:3) (Psalm 32:8) (Psalm 23:1) (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17) (Proverbs 3:11) ] Therefore we can ‘know and rely on the love God has for us,’ as the author of 1 John explains (1 John 4:16). No matter how limited the love shown to us by our earthly father, we can depend on the love our Heavenly Father has ‘lavished’ on us (1 John 3:1). Sometimes it is hard to truly 'know' the love God has for us.
So, what are the obstacles in the way?
For family and friends who don't know God, it might be that their own presuppositions are stopping them. How do we portray God to friends and family who don’t know Him? A fictional novel entitled ‘The Shack’ tells the story of Mackenzie who encounters God the Father in a refreshingly different way – as an African-American black woman called ‘Papa’. Theologically controversial, nevertheless author William Young illustrates how the Lord transcends our earthly understanding, and how we might encourage our loved ones to let go of their presuppositions in order to discover God’s true nature.
Calling God ‘Papa’ can be a wonderfully intimate way of communicating with Him. However, some see it as defaming God, belittling His Sovereignty. Hebrew scholar J.Parsons declares that the Aramaic ‘abba’ does not constitute to ‘papa’ or ‘daddy’ but rather ‘father’ (Hebrew Names of God). He argues that calling the Lord ‘Daddy-God’ diminishes ‘His glory as the Master of the universe’. An alternative view is that the word ‘God’ is in itself an acknowledgement of His glory, and that adding the word ‘Papa’ simply recognizes His extravagant love for us. Would you be comfortable calling God 'Papa'?
Enduring discipline from God can be another obstacle, causing us to question His acceptance. But knowing He does it ‘as a father’ to ‘the one he delights in’ helps us focus on its long-term benefit - a harvest of ‘righteousness and peace’ (Proverbs 3:11-12, Hebrews 12:11). Moreover, since love is ‘more sensitive than hatred itself to every blemish in the beloved,’ as C.S.Lewis writes, we can receive discipline knowing we are fully accepted (Lewis, The Problem of Pain).
A final obstacle to knowing God as a Father comes from self-rejection. The cross suggests that each of us is worth as much as Jesus Christ - Jesus Himself prays to God ‘you … have loved them even as you have loved me’ (John 17:23). Self-rejection contradicts the ‘sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved” ’ as Henri Nouwen states. This is dangerous, since ‘being the beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence,’ (Nouwen, Life of the Beloved). Without love we die.
Knowing God as a loving Father is a journey. Yet when we begin to realise this truth in the core of our being, we are no longer looking for significance in success, wealth, or prestige. We are free to be our true selves.
-What do you think? Are there other 'keys' we can use to know God's Father-heart more deeply?