Father’s Day and the Fatherhood of God

by | Jun 19, 2020 | Formation, Reflections | 1 comment

I am still learning from my father about God as Father 

I don’t recall him ever saying a word about God the Father.

Yet I still remember very clearly the experience of my father when I was in seventh grade. I messed up badly. I was caught! (If you must know… I got caught playing hooky from school.)

My mother was furious!! But then my father came home. To this day I cannot forget the look of pain on his face. He was a very gentle and loving man. He was not given to anger. When he came into my room it was clear. He was just so disappointed and hurt by what I had done. That look was the worst punishment he could have given. And as I write this, I can still feel the emotions!

Fast forward to his last weeks on earth. He was facing major surgery from which he never recovered. He was telling my mother that he did not sleep. I can still hear words spoken in German. “So, I kept praying my “Vater Unser” (Our Father).” That was the trust he had in his Father in heaven.

Fathers shape our images of God the Father

Sociologists say it’s common for people to perceive God is like the fatherly figures in their lives. If dad is caring, patient, and concerned, then children will believe God has those same characteristics. And the opposite holds true when a father is harsh, judgmental, or absent.

The relationship with our biological dad should prepare us for a relationship with our heavenly Father.  A daddy’s nature provides a window through which we can experience the heart of God.

We learn about God by looking at what it means to be a father. “What father among you, Jesus says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent?” (Luke 11:11).” He is drawing our attention to our own experience of fatherhood.

“Think about what your children mean to you,” Jesus is saying, “and that will give you a little window into what you mean to God.” Jesus is inviting us to reflect on our own experience of a father’s love for his son or daughter.

Now we live in a world of very imperfect fathers, and some are clearly better than others. But our Lord is saying that even in the world of fallen fathers, who come up short in so many ways, reflecting on what a son or daughter means to a father or mother will give you some insight into what God’s children mean to him.

Even though children know intellectually that God is fair, loving and kind and patient, it’s hard for them to relate to God at a gut level in a deep way if their own father is not loving.

Additional thoughts 

This marvelous analogy works in another direction. We can learn about fathering by looking at God!

Remember also, that mother’s shape our image not only of Mary as mother and God as Mother but also of the Church as Mother.

For further thought

  • What lessons have I learned about being an image of God in the lives of others?
  • How can I be sensitive to those who were not blessed with loving images of God?

An earlier version of this post appeared on Vincentian Mindwalk

1 Comment

  1. Ross

    As I have already said in Vincentian Mindwalk, thanks, John, for your on-going mentorship, insights and challenges. There is not only so much to learn and do still, but also so much to unlearn and undo.

    And I pray that God, Father and Mother (this reflection has prompted me to re-read parts of Erich Fromm’s The Art of Loving), undo the harm I’ve done, with its remnants and consequences, and also make up for my wrong words, actions and my omissions. May God go on being merciful and writing straight with crooked lines.

    The first step to take, in my opinion, is to acknowledge our need, helplessness and weakness, and make them the basis of our total trust in God. Sensitive to my own need for a forgiving Father, I may then be more sensitive to those who have not been blessed with loving images of God.

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