Hallmark cards fail to celebrate the dark side of fatherhood. No father ever opens up a card to read, “Thank you for leaving me when I was two.” No woman writes a love letter to her father for stealing her innocence. Card commercials portray fathers reading stories to their kids and serving ice cream. They don’t showcase fathers yelling and beating their kids.
If our knowledge of the word father was limited to what we see in card commercials, we might imagine fatherhood to be a warm fuzzy experience for all involved, but many grown up children will testify their relationship with dad is a like scary trip through the dark woods. For these people, Father’s Day is the darkest day of the year–a reminder of those absent fathers and dads who shut us out when they disapprove of us.
©Rolf Jansson/Licensed from GoodSalt.com
When fathers show a lack of support and inability to connect with us it hurts because our fathers once represented God to us. The image of God they gave us was sometimes good and sometimes abusive which causes us to imagine God as both good and evil, but God is not like our human fathers. The Bible reveals God is a loving Father who gives us every good and perfect gift (James 1:17).
To understand the Father’s character, we can learn from the life and words of Jesus. The most obvious example is the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).
This Father is wholehearted and present in his son’s life, but he is never controlling. When the son asks for his inheritance, the Father gives it to him. He doesn’t push him to see things his way. He doesn’t spy on him, or try to coerce him. He never uses force on him—even when the son gambles it all away the Father doesn’t interfere. When his son shames the family name by eating with the pigs, the Father doesn’t go after him, because he respects his choices.
Eventually the son realizes what he’s thrown away. He now feels humble and unworthy to be called a son, but he realizes his father’s servants eat better than he does, so he heads home. “It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance”(Romans 2:4).
So the Father is waiting and watching down that road hoping every day just for a glimpse of his son coming home. Finally the day comes when he sees him in the distance. The Father has been patient but now that the son has made his choice to come home, the Father rushes out the door. He runs as fast as he can to grab his boy and give him a big ole bear hug–that’s God, running out to meet us when we decide to come home.
Even though the son only feels worthy of being a servant, the Father still calls him son. He dresses him up in the best clothes and puts the authority of the family ring on his finger. He doesn’t hide his son’s mistakes, but he doesn’t rub it in either. He invites all of his friends and throws a party to celebrate his son’s homecoming.
This Father Jesus describes is a lot like Himself. Later Jesus will tell his friends “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Just as we don’t believe those Hallmark commercials, we can stop imagining the bad experiences with our earthly fathers represent our Father God. This world is like a dark forest with our fathers trying to find their way. Sometimes they took us through the dark places with them, but there is one Father who can get us out alive. In Him there is only light–no darkness or shadows (1 John 1:5).
If we allow the cameras to pan out beyond the dark woods, we can see the Father sitting on his porch bathed in light. He is waiting for each of us to realize He is a wholehearted, patient, forgiving and non-judgmental father. He is waiting to welcome all of us–fathers and children–home where his perfect love will erase all of our darkness.
So happy Father’s Day to all the hurting kids who wish they had a loving father–God is your Father now and He is worthy of your trust.
And happy Father’s Day to all the fathers who feel guilty and ashamed for their failings–find peace in His love because God is your Father too.