The Fatherhood of God by David Dunham

I have never had that forgetful moment. Some of you know what I mean. It’s the moment when you want to call your parent and tell them something but then suddenly remember that they’re dead. That’s the forgetful moment when life as it has always been collides with life as it really is. I haven’t yet had that experience. I regularly think about the fact that my dad is gone. I miss him often. In moments like that the Fatherhood of God has been particularly sweet to me. The doctrine of the Fatherhood of God should be more than a mere abstract concept for those who are truly His children.

Some in our culture may speak of God as Father in very generic terms. “We are all God’s children,” they suggest, by which they mean that he has created us all. But to speak of God as Father and God as Creator, while having some overlap, are to make two different points. We confuse Fatherhood if we think of it merely in relation to creation. “Father” has a personal and affectionate aspect to it.

Some within the church do this too. We speak of the Fatherhood of God but in ways that are empty, devoid of his personal relationship to us. We may speak of God as Father but often we have in mind God’s role as Father of the Son. Jesus, however, distinctly teaches us to call God “Our Father” (Matt. 6:9). He is not only the Father of the Son; he is Father to all his children. The Fatherhood of God is not a mere doctrinal abstraction; it is an immanent reality for the believer. He is “our Father,” he is my Father.

I had a good dad. As I got older we shared fewer serious conversations about life. It’s something I regret. I wish I had asked him more often about his life. I do remember well, though, a few conversations we had where I was able to unload some burden, seek his wisdom, learn from his experiences. I knew that with my dad I could tell him anything, and though I didn’t take advantage of this often enough, it’s a model of good fatherhood that has stuck with me. I remember one particular scene when I, as a little boy, snuck out of bed late one night and found my dad in the living room watching football. I came in and with tears rolling down my face asked my father if I was an evil child. He turned off his game pulled me onto his lap, wiped my tears away, and talked to me about my fears. I think of that image often these days as I try to love my kids. I think of it often too when I think about my relationship to God.

Jesus teaches us that our heavenly Father is a good dad. He says:

What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:11-13)

What we instinctively expect from good fathers we ought also to expect from God. This is a doctrine that is, I believe, vital to our struggle with the assurance of our salvation.

Some of us tend to look at our failures at obedience, at our inconsistency, and question the validity of our profession. “How can I be a Christian,” we ask, “when I continue to struggle with these same sins?” It’s a fair question, one that the Bible even challenges us to ask of ourselves. And yet, sometimes there is an underlying assumption in our doubt that needs to be addressed. Sometimes we simply don’t view God as the good daddy he claims to be. I love the way Kevin DeYoung wrote about this in his helpful book The Hole in Our Holiness. DeYoung wrote:

Why do we imagine God to be so unmoved by our heart-felt attempts at obedience? He is, after all, our heavenly Father. What sort of father looks at his daughter’s homemade birthday card and complains that the color scheme is all wrong? What kind of mother says to her son, after he gladly cleaned the garage but put the paint cans on the wrong shelf, “This is worthless in my sight”? What sort of parent rolls his eyes when his child falls off the bike on the first try? There is no righteousness that makes us right with God except for the righteousness of Christ. But for those who have been made right with God by grace alone through faith alone and therefore have been adopted into God’s family, many of our righteous deeds are not only not filthy in God’s eyes, they are exceedingly sweet, precious, and pleasing to him. (70)

Yes, we are imperfect. We have a great deal of growth that needs to occur in our lives. But if we cannot imagine a good dad being so utterly disgusted by the sincere, if still flawed, efforts of his children then how could we imagine our heavenly Father being so calloused? God is a good daddy. When I am tempted to doubt my salvation because of the continuance of indwelling sin, I need to lean heavy on the arms of my Father. This is the Father who wants to draw us up into his lap, wipe away our tears, and talk to us about our fears. This is a Father who loves us, and who loves even our measly attempts to honor him. This is my Father!

There are some, of course, who can’t relate. Even as believers they struggle to grasp the Fatherhood of God because, in fact, their own earthly dad was so terrible. Though we may say that God was Father first, he precedes the earthly copies, we must concede that emotionally we all respond to our own earthly fathers first. The Fatherhood of God, then, is logically first but experientially second. The men and women I know who were molested by their fathers as little children have trouble seeing this doctrine as anything more than mere abstract theology. Personally, fatherhood bears too much pain for it to have any other place in their lives. But they too need to experience the Fatherhood of God in practical ways; not merely as a cognitive concept.

This is an area where the church should move carefully and compassionately. It’s often helpful to point believers to the experiences of the Father they have already had. True believers have already encountered the true Father, they know his love and grace and mercy. Many simply don’t connect it to the doctrine of God’s Fatherhood. As “Abba” he has already revealed what he is like in the life of this child. It’s important to help them see that and then patiently bear with them as they make that connection to God’s display of fatherliness. Overtime, the hope is that they will see with fresh eyes what a good daddy looks like, and they will see it most clearly modeled in our gracious God.

I have not yet experienced that forgetful moment; but like many of you I have experienced that other forgetful moment. That moment when I forget what a good dad I have. I want to cling to the truths and experiences I know of this good Father. I don’t want to forget these. The doctrine of the fatherhood of God is a deeply practical and deeply personal doctrine for me. It should be so for all his children. 

Dave Dunham is associate pastor at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Roseville, MI. He is a graduate of Ohio University (BA) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: