Father. All would agree that this is a word that is under an amazing amount of attack and scrutiny in our modern days. In certain situations, the critique is justified. In others, it is unfortunate how the title carries with it a level of suspect and disdain. Many of the fathers portrayed in media are intended for a laugh, and yet the joke cuts deep in many homes in which the father is either absent or disconnected. Did we get this way because of popular media or is media simply reflecting what has developed in real life? Perhaps it’s nature. Perhaps it’s nurture. Regardless, we have some problems that are not easily fixed, but are having a profound impact upon this generation, and the ones to come.
For years I’ve worked with individuals and families in need and I’ve been haunted by these questions and concerns. The reason is because so many of the issues facing families are rooted in what I call “Father Matters.” When one peels away the layers of hurt and unrest, it’s quite common to find that at the core is a breach with the father. This broken or misplaced relationship can serve to tear at the fiber of our esteem, erode our ability to connect, and undermine our capacity to cope.
In my opinion, the father really matters. Interestingly and unfortunately, the image of our earthly father is often superimposed upon that of our Heavenly Father. The two uniquely go hand in hand. Not only have our biological fathers gotten a bad rap, but so has our Father God – who lives in heaven. He desires an intimate relationship with his children, but often we are unable to get past the volume of preconceptions or fears. We have heart cries such as: Will you hurt me? Are you going to be there? Will you be involved? How much do you love me? Why are you absent and uninterested?
These questions are hurdles of the heart that stand between us and our earthly fathers. They often remain in place for our Heavenly Father to have to jump over as well. This is because our relationship with our “seen father” becomes a mirror of our relationship with our “unseen Father.” The mental paradigm is set. The emotional mold has formed and it will take a work of the heart AND mind to renew and restore us to a right relationship. The journey of renewal and restoration begins with understanding the distinguishing features between God our LORD and God our FATHER. Our starting point is in Psalm 68.
“Sing to God, sing praise to his name, extol him who rides on the clouds – his name is the LORD – and rejoice before him.” (v4)
The word “preeminent” means “surpassing all others and very distinguished.” He is the Lord that is often viewed as “out there.” He is the one that “rides on the clouds,” and we are to extol and praise him. For the most part, we’ve got this part down. It’s easy to view him in this way because we technically cannot see him. He is God and he can do whatever he wants so we just mind our own business and go on praising him as Lord. Much of our current worship services are built around the model of God as Lord. We are comfortable worshipping him from a distance. A popular worship song reinforces this: “God of Wonder, beyond our galaxy…”
When he is the Lord that is “out there” then we don’t have to contend with matters of the heart – the intimacy issues that float to the surface. Here is where a rub of sorts emerges. At some point we have to wrestle with the reality of him also being Father. The next verse of Psalm 68 speaks to this.
“[He is] A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, [he] is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families…” (v5)
Now the Lord who is “out there” moves into close proximity – right here – right where we are. He comes to where we are hurting, where we need to be defended and cared for. This is a bit more troublesome for many today because our paradigm of father has been so badly marred. How do we rectify what is spoken about God in scripture – of being a father to the fatherless, a defender, a caregiver to the lonely – when much of what we’ve known historically of our earthly fathers does not support that notion? Perhaps you are particularly sensitive to the pains of the past. Perhaps you’ve experienced abuse or neglect. Perhaps your father’s image has been tarnished. What do you do now? How do you approach your heavenly Father with all this accumulated distrust?
My encouragement to you is that you would draw near. Come close to God as Father and discover the warmth of his heart. He will not hurt you. Perhaps you’ve seen the work of his hands from afar. You’ve seen the work of his hand and know him to be Lord of all – continue to extol, praise and rejoice in him. But now add to your praise a personal connection with who he is as Father – feel the warmth of his heart. Whether or not you’ve been let down by your earthly father, I believe you’ll find what so many have found to be true: God is good. God as Lord and God as Father. Lord and Father. Both matter. One is preeminent – way out there. The other is personal – right here.
That’s the Lord we praise. That’s the Father that loves us so much.
John Fehlen serves as the Lead Pastor of West Salem Foursquare Church. He digs his wife Denise and their four kids. John can be found sipping an Iced Grande Triple Espresso with two pumps sugar-free vanilla. Check out his blog at www.johnfehlen.com.