Out of all the members of the Trinity, God the Father is the one I’m most wary of. Sure, He’s called Father. But my mind runs to some authoritarian Dad from the Victorian ages. Perhaps He doesn’t want relationship. Instead, He looms behind His friendlier Son;
Don’t make too much noise. Obey the rules. Go through the proper channels. And always, always refer to me by my proper titles:
Creator, Ruler, Enforcer.
Dad…? You must be joking.
In some ways, this God is impressive. He’s Big and He’s powerful. He demands obedience and sometimes, fear. But do I care about Him? No. Will I run to Him if I’m frightened? Of course not. At best, He’s like a big Highway Code. And at worst, He’s angry and even mean.
So what do I do with verses like this?
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)
According to John, God is love. But where’s the evidence? He tells us in the very next verse…
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son.
We know He’s a Father because He’s always had a Son. Long before the earth was created or any rules had been set, God was Father. Fatherly love is who He is — not just on Sundays when He’s had a sit down, but in eternity; long before the world began. God the Father is not simply a Creator, because there was a time before He made creation. And He’s not just a Lawgiver, because there was a time when He hadn’t made any laws. But He has always been a Father and He’s always been loving His Son.
[Jesus prayed] Father you loved me before the creation of the world (John 17:24)
Sometimes we’re tempted to think of God as power-hungry or in need of company. Nothing could be further from the truth. He doesn’t make us because He has to. He makes us because His love is so full and so overflowing that He wants to pour it out upon others. His love is so complete and so overflowing that He wants to share it with us. So He sends His Son, to bring us into this relationship of love and make us sons too:
In love, (God the Father) predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will. (Ephesians 1:5).
God the Father wanted to make us His children, right from the very start. Why? Because Jesus begged Him to? Because He was lonely or fed-up or someone forced His hand? No. Because He wanted to. It was His pleasure. Or as Jesus reminds us in John 16:
I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. For the Father Himself loves you.
So much for my image of God as a distant distributor of blessings and curses, favours and fury. Instead, here’s a Father, looking on His beloved children, with arms outstretched.
Think of some loving parents that you know. Do they let them do exactly as they please? Of course not. If my son toddles towards the fire, I’ll warn him and pull him away. I’ll cuddle him and look after him and I’ll set limits for him too. In the same way, (but without any flaws) the Father disciplines us because He loves us and wants to keep us safe. He’s loving; because He’s just. And He’s just; because He’s loving.
This then, is our heavenly Father. Whatever our experience of earthly dads, He is overflowing with love. Like the Father in the prodigal son, He runs to meet us. And when we see who He is, we run to Him too.
The comic, Dawn French, was once asked for the source of her confidence and she told this story about her dad. As a teenager, she was getting ready to go to her first disco, but unlike her friends, none of the boys had shown her any interest. Head down, she slunk towards the front door in makeup and hot pants. But her father stopped her. She readied herself for a lecture about staying out late. Instead, “He sat me down and told me that I was beautiful, that I was the most precious thing in his life, that he prized me above all else, and that he was proud to be my father.”
From that moment, Dawn began to stop doubting herself. “He succeeded in making my self esteem so high”, she said, “that I wasn’t going to let any boy kiss me at all that night. I was just too good!” Later she reflected, “How wise of my father to say those words to me. It affected my whole life.”
The unconditional love of an earthly Father gives us a wonderful start. But the unconditional love of a heavenly Abba changes everything. To a distant Power I might bow my head in fear. But the love of my Father makes me fall, rejoicing, to my knees.