Years ago, the staggering impact a father plays in a child’s concept of God struck me when an instructor in a counseling class had each of us take an inventory on how we perceived our earthly fathers. I zipped through the simple list checking the appropriate columns in regards to a variety of issues.
Later in the course, we filled out the same inventory, but this time we answered with respect to our heavenly Father. Again, I whizzed down the columns—until I recognized an emerging pattern. I flipped back in my notebook to search for the first inventory. Stunned, I saw they were almost identical.
Where Daddy had a sense of humor, I knew God chuckled. Where my dad was strict, I saw my heavenly Father frown. I’d made God in the image of my dad.[easy-tweet tweet=”No matter how good a father may be, he is nowhere as good and consistent as God the Father. ” user=”@DebbieWilson” hashtags=”#Fathers”]
No matter how good a father may be, he is nowhere as good and consistent as God the Father. But what happens if our earthly father was distant, absent, or abusive? The point of the class was to help us recognize negative feelings about God may be rooted in our experiences with our fathers. No one sees God accurately.
A friend took a seminary class that echoed this finding. Her class discussed the results of a survey done among self-professing atheists. Each one had suffered a damaged relationship with his or her father. Their fathers were typically described as either absent, abusive, or distant.
A Biblical Example
This information helped me understand a verse that had puzzled me. Fifteen months before the birth of Jesus the angel Gabriel gave this prophesy concerning the upcoming birth and ministry of John the Baptist: “And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17 ESV).
How would turning the hearts of the fathers to the children prepare the way for Jesus, I wondered.
Understanding the impact a father has on a child’s view of God brought understanding to John’s mission. Loving, engaged fathers tenderize their children’s hearts toward the Father.
Self-absorbed and emotionally disengaged fathers hinder their children from experiencing the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. Turning the hearts of the fathers to their children opened Israel’s arms to welcome God’s Son who came to show us the Father.
Two Modern Examples
Josh McDowell, Christian author and speaker, is a modern day example of this. Did you know that this man who has impacted millions of lives for Christ entered college as an agnostic?
McDowell grew up with an alcoholic father. He set out to disprove the resurrection and debunk Christianity. Instead, he discovered the Savior and found a new Father. Jesus healed the wounds of his childhood and transformed his life. Read his bio here.
- S. Lewis’s mother died when he was ten. Lewis’s father shipped him off to boarding school. The emotionally distant relationship with his out-of-touch father no doubt played a role in his becoming an atheist.
But the story doesn’t end there. Christ pursued Lewis. The love of the heavenly Father transformed Lewis into the great Christian author and influencer we deeply love.
If you or your mentee have struggled with feeling close to God or believing you belong to Him look at your relationship with your earthly father. Could it be affecting how you feel about your heavenly Father?
Our fathers—even those that were absent—profoundly affect our relationship with our heavenly Father. But they aren’t the only influence. Jesus came to show us the Father. Getting to know Him better transforms us and bridges any gap we’ve felt with our heavenly Father. The healing Josh McDowell and C. S. Lewis found is available to all who come to Jesus.
If you feel distant from your Heavenly Father, tell Him. Then ask Him to heal the wound. It might help to make a list comparing your father with your heavenly Father. And remember, God doesn’t chastise us for how we feel.
About the Author:
Debbie W. Wilson is an ordinary woman who has experienced an extraordinary God. Drawing from her personal walk with Christ, twenty-four years as a Christian counselor, and decades as a Bible teacher, Debbie speaks and writes to help others discover relevant faith. She is the author of Little Women, Big God and Give Yourself a Break. She and her husband, Larry, founded Lighthouse Ministries in 1991. Share her journey to refreshing faith at her blog. Share the Journey with Debbie on her website www.debbieWwilson.com