Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Bad Dad, Good Dad, Indifferent Dad, Absent Dad

God chooses to liken Himself to a Father and so to better understand our relationship with God it would do us well to see what the characteristics of a good father are.  I think one important key to understanding how we relate to our Father is understanding the relationship between a good father and his child.  Today I am going to tell the take of 4 fathers, an abusive one, an indifferent one, an absent one, and a good one. 
But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, "Abba, Father!"  Galatians 4:4-6 NKJV
The first kind of father I want to talk about is the hyper strict abusive father.  This is the kind of father whose love for his child is dependent upon how well that child obeys his father. This relationship is filled with frequent and harsh discipline to the point of abuse.  The child grows up constantly trying to please a father who is never pleased and trying to earn the love of a man who will never love him.  The child does what he is supposed to not out of love, but out of fear of discipline.  In the end, the child is only about self preservation and any show of love for his father is merely to try and mitigate any further abuse. 

This is not a good father and is not representative at all of our Father in heaven.  Many even in the church like to live with the belief that this is our Father.  Some even accuse me of the same, but we will address that later.  This is the legalistic church where God may save us from sin, but we had better behave because grace only goes so far.  People live by some form of a morality code, usually controlling everything from their position in the church, to what clothes they wear, to what they are allowed to do outside of the church, and even sometimes who they are allowed to marry.  It is about control and people behave because they are afraid not to.  They live righteously to an extent, but that life has nothing to do with love for God, but only fear of the wrath they have been taught.  The healthy fear and respect we are supposed to have for God is twisted into an utter terror of stepping out against God in any way. 

The next kind of father is quite the opposite.  This is the permissive (or as I like to say impotent) father.  He sets no standards for his children other for them to be themselves.  There is no such thing as discipline and so his children do what they want when they want and in the end it is the child who rules over the father.  Usually the father in these cases spoils the child.  Everything the child desires, so long as the father can afford it (and many times even if he can not), the child receives.  They grow up with a sense of entitlement.  They end up believing that they actually deserve everything they want.  Some even occupy Wall Street.  The father loves his children, but is more interested in how much his children show love for him than he is about them actually growing up right.  In that, the kind of love he has is a rather selfish love.  He wants to be his child's friend.  He wants to be "cool."  As for the children, they certainly show love for their father but that showing of love becomes dependent on how permissive and spoiling their fathers are.  That love quickly turns to anger and insult as soon as the father sets some rules or holds back on gifts. 

This, again, is not like our Father in Heaven at all.  This kind of God is the kind of God that those in the Health and Prosperity movement believe in.  They believe that God is just out to give them whatever they want whenever they want it.  They believe as children of God, they are entitled to perfect health and whatever material possession their hearts of flesh desire.  Their love for God is dependent upon what they believe He can do for them.  This is also true for a special case of the Health and Prosperity movement, and that is where grace becomes part of the equation.  When Paul asks if they should sin all the more so grace may abound, they generally think it is a good idea despite what the next verse in the Bible says.  I am not saying we are not saved by grace, but they take it to whole new level where grace is not about forgiveness for those times we fall into sin, but an excuse as to why they do not even need to be concerned about any sin in their lives.  They set no standards for their own lives because they believe that any standards for our lives were taken care of at the Cross.  The whole idea of living righteously in Christ or being holy because God is holy become abstract concepts with no practical meaning for their lives on earth.  This kind of father can also be attributed (in its most extreme form) to those churches who not only live openly in sin, but refuse to call that sin for what it is.  A perfect example of this would be churches that embrace homosexuals living as homosexuals and even marrying those of the same sex.  This has gone so far in some places where even pastors can be living in open homosexuality. 

Now let us briefly discuss the absentee father as this is no father at all.  Some fathers take little time or interest in the lives of their children.  They put career over family.  They put their own interests over that of spending time with their children.  They do not go to games or just spend time working with their children. As far as the child knows, the man they call "dad" is a stranger.  Some may be physically present but emotionally distant.  This has the same effect of a child who may love the idea of his father, but does not know the actual man he is supposed to love. 

Once again, this is not our Father in heaven.  While we may not spend time "hanging out" with Him, He does live in our hearts as the Holy Spirit.  Our relationship is one where He knows us intimately and through prayer we get to know Him.  Some of my best prayers are when I am silent and just wait on God.  This is likened to churches like the Catholic church where God is taught as being distant or aloof.  There is a hierarchy of priests and other church leaders on earth to give forgiveness for sins and other such things that apparently God is too busy for.  Even when it does come time to pray, they either pray to Mary or some saint.  Even getting past how this is entirely unscriptural, it does not create any kind of relationship with the Father.  We are called to pray for the Father whether it be for forgiveness of sins or for something we need to deal with in this life.  God is never too busy to hear our prayers and our prayers are like a sweet smelling aroma to our Father.  He wants that close intimate relationship with us.  Please do not ever let someone cheat you out of that relationship. 

Finally, let us talk about the good father.  This is the father who raises his children.  They know he loves them and they love him in return.  There are times of discipline when they do something wrong, but that discipline is merely a means to correct dangerous action and not a way to abuse the child.  Discipline is absolutely essential in a healthy father and child relationship because on their own, children will stray.  This father provides good things for their children, but does not overdo it to create a sense of entitlement.  This father supports his child financially, emotionally, physically, and works to raise him or her into a man or woman.  His children desire to follow after his direction not because they fear him but because they love him.  It is not a matter of not doing something wrong out of fear of abuse, but of desiring to do something right to please the father they love so dearly. 

And such is our Father in heaven.  He is the model of the perfect earthly father.  He loves His children and provides for their every need.  He also raises His children.  Please do not ever think that God excuses sin.  Look upon Jesus on the cross to see how God excuses sin.  It simply is not true.  And so while we are saved from condemnation, God will chasten us to correct our sinful behavior.  I know the argument about saying that God will not chasten us because those sins are forgiven.  That view, however, reflects a poor understanding on just what a father is.  Discipline, even for the good earthly father, is not a means to force a child to attain forgiveness through pain and it is not even about the punishment, but it is about correcting behavior.  God does not discipline to abuse us, but to raise us into maturity.  If left on our own, we would be wandering into all sorts of dangerous behavior.  God must discipline us for our own good.  We also know that God gave His only son to die for our sins.  Out of our gratitude for all He has done for us, we love our Father with all of our hearts.  In that love, we desire to do the things that please Him and abstain from things that hurt Him.  We do not always get it right, but we know we can always approach Him for mercy for those times. 

God is the perfect Father who loves us perfectly.  We love our Father and desire to be children that are pleasing to God.  We desire His authority over our lives trusting that He knows how best to raise us.  Sometimes that involves discipline, but when it is over and we see all that God has done through His chastening we realize it was for our own good and thank Him all the more.  I could not imagine walking through life where God was not my Father.  He is my Hope, my Protector, my Strength, my Sustainer, my Provider, my God, but more than anything else, He is my Father.   Even better than me knowing Him as my Father, is that He knows me as His son.  Think about that today.  Think about the fact that when God sees you, He sees you as His beloved child. 
For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."  Romans 8:15 NKJV

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