That can have many different meanings, of course. In our house, Father is the person you go to if you need a lift somewhere, or if Mother won’t cough up the money you want!
There are good Father’s and bad Fathers. Sadly, for many people, the word Father has negative connotations. And indeed there are a lot of families where the Father is completely absent. But there are a lot of examples of good Fathers as well, men who have been there for their kids no matter what.
Most of us who’ve attempted to do the tough job of Fatherhood will probably be somewhere in the middle of the range. Not perfect, but muddling through!
As Christians, though, we also talk about God as our Father. Now that can be a bit of a challenge for those of us who are Fathers. Is God’s Fatherhood the standard against which ours is measured? I’m not sure I like that idea. This job is hard enough without having to be compared with God!
However, I’d like to suggest this morning that we should look at this differently, that we should turn it round. Instead of learning about Fatherhood by looking at God, we can perhaps learn about God by looking at Fathers.
There is some controversy nowadays about the term ‘God our Father’. In a much more inclusive world, many people will question if it’s right to give God a gender. And if we do, why should it be male? Why can’t we talk about ‘God our Mother?’ It’s a fair question, and I think it’s something we need to be open to. But let me suggest this way of looking at it. When we speak of God the Father, we are not so much describing God as describing our relationship with God.
We are saying that God acts towards us as a Father does. In the Old Testament, that might have meant that the Jewish people saw God as being like one of their Patriarchs, like Abraham or Isaac or Jacob, men who led their families on long journeys and through times of change. In the New Testament, we read of Jesus referring to God as ‘Abba’ – which is a bit like saying ‘Daddy’. To me, the picture is of a child curled up on their Father’s lap, safe & secure.
The world has changed since then, and Fatherhood has changed with it. Fathers are no longer leaders in the same way as the Patriarchs were. But perhaps we can still learn something about God and our relationship to him by thinking about our Fathers.
If we think about the things they’ve done right, the times they’ve been there for us, the times they’ve helped and encouraged, the times they carried us on their shoulders or held our hands or just shared a laugh – maybe that can teach us something about how God wants to relate to us. And God our Father can be not just some distant authority figure, a patriarch, but simply someone who is there for us all the time.
Think of the best examples of Fatherhood you can, and you are thinking about God.