My first picture of God came from my earthly father. I remember standing on a chair, watching through the window for him. As soon as he came in sight, I ran out to meet him and give him a hug. He would pick me up and swing me around until he got dizzy and we both fell laughing onto the lawn. He doted on me as much as any loving father who adores his daughter. Mom said that I was the apple of his eye.
His work in the woods allowed him to bring me wonderful surprises which were usually wildflowers although one time he brought home a baby rabbit. When I was sick, it was Daddy who took care of me. If I was scared at night, I ran down the hall to where I knew I would be safe in Daddy’s strong arms. Those strong arms of protection swinging me around and hugging me when I was scared gave me my first picture of what it is like to be cared for by a loving father. This was my first image of God and it was good.
Later those same strong arms would punish me with the belt leaving bruises on my legs. My father is a tenderhearted man–he loves children and does not like to hurt them. I believe my parents were pressured by their parents and the church to make me behave. They wanted me to grow up doing what is right. In all fairness I was their first, experimental child. I think they treated my younger siblings with less ideal expectations. But those beltings, though well intended, affected my ability to trust God.
I lived in fear of the belt until I left home in my twentieth year. I have never held a grudge regardless of what people might say. My problem has been fear of my heavenly Father. I imagined God was like an earthly parent who wanted to force me to be good for two reasons–
1. Because God has all power in the universe I imagined the Father must be a bully.
2. Being good was the reason I was belted in the first place, so I figured God must approve.
These false ideas caused me to do all kinds of bargaining with God to avoid His wrath. There is no room for love and trust when a relationship is built on force and fear.
There is no fear in love.
But perfect love drives out fear,
because fear has to do with punishment.
The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
1 John 4:18
Unlike my earthly father, I had no memories of God swinging me around with delight or sharing cookies with me. As far as I could remember, God never sat down and had a heart to heart talk with me. What did I have to base my trust on?
Parents often reflect the behavior of their own parents. We become like the God we know. If we think God is quick to anger and punish, we will treat children the same. I remember yelling at one of my nephews a few years ago. I hated myself for it. It was programmed into me by my own experiences and church teachings that may have been misled. I remember reading in a book that parents are “not to break the will–but to bend it.”
So many parents want to break the will so they can have control of their child, but they might do this at a price. For young parents it’s important to remember it’s not what you do, but how you make your children feel that will affect their relationship with you and ultimately God for the rest of their lives.
If our earthly parents in any way abused their power over us we will subconsciously assume God is like our earthly parents. If our parents were critical or judgmental, we might imagine God is that way. No one likes to be criticized and condemned so we stop visiting people who make us feel bad. When people imagine God is like such earthly parents, they often stop going to church. Who can blame them?
All human parents make mistakes, but even in the worst situations we can forgive and move on when we realize they developed their life strategies from their own imperfect parents. We can go easier on them when we remember God is the only perfect Father.
Our Heavenly Father —
1. Gives us every good and perfect gift (James 1:17)
2. Disciplines us with love (Proverbs 3:12)
3. Delights in us and sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17)
4. Is exactly like Jesus (John 14:8-11)
5. Never changes (James 1:17)
6. The Father Himself loves us! (John 16:26-27)
Whether your earthly father is still alive or you are waiting to see him again, your Heavenly Father is still with you. He is delighting over you with singing, planning a good future for you and waiting for the day when you completely trust Him.
In that day you will ask in my name.
I am not saying that I will ask
the Father on your behalf.
No, the Father himself loves you.