I believe in God, the Father, almighty —The Apostles’ Creed
The first hint that Christianity worships a different sort of god comes in the very beginning of the Creed. God is Father, almighty, which is a uniquely Judeo-Christian way to think about deity.
If you asked people on the street to explain their idea of god, they might call it a divine inner wisdom or a mysterious life-force. Some people immerse god in nature, a divine spirit in the earth and stars. Many would say their god is an unknowable “it”. But to Christians, God is our heavenly Father, the great patriarch who lit the spark of life in the beginning and who has called sons and daughters to himself in every generation.
Father is the title Jesus uses most frequently when he speaks about God. For instance:
“My Father has entrusted everything to me. No one truly knows the Son except the Father, and no one truly knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” —Matthew 11:27 (NLT)
Father is the name Jesus taught his disciples to use when they prayed, as in “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”
And, father humanizes God’s lament when he speaks to Israel about their rebelliousness:
“I thought to myself, ‘I would love to treat you as my own children!’ I wanted nothing more than to give you this beautiful land—the finest possession in the world. I looked forward to your calling me ‘Father,’ and I wanted you never to turn from me.” —Jeremiah 3:19 (NLT)
Father, then, is a title God has chosen for himself. Why? Is he literally a father, in the biological sense we understand the word to mean? Doubtful, since God, an eternal and omnipotent being, is clearly not made of the material stuff we are. Is it a title meant to communicate something about God in terms we can more easily relate to? Or… something else?
I suppose we first ought to face up to the difficulties the word presents. Not all of us have had wonderful experiences with our own fathers, and many of us who are fathers have not always done well by our children. But the fact that we’ve managed to give fatherhood a bad name doesn’t reflect in any way on this almighty God who calls himself “Father”. If you decide to reject the Christian God because you don’t like thinking of him as a father, you’re cutting off your nose to spite your face.
I’m a terrible chess player, but there are some dazzling chess players in the world. My poor showing in a chess tournament would in no way diminish the superb play exhibited by a chess grand master. And likewise, my shortcomings as a father don’t take away from the great fathers out there, nor can it possibly reflect on the Almighty who, as the popular song says, is a good, good, Father.
I have tried to be a good father to my two children. When they were young and vulnerable, I protected them, I comforted them when they were frightened, I fed them, I rocked them to sleep. Throughout their lives I have provided good things for them: a home, food, stability, love. I taught them about life and tried to model good behavior to them. I instructed them about God and shared as much of life with them as I could. I rejoiced in them, I laughed with them, and I looked for ways to give them experiences of delight, joy, and contentment.
The Christian faith teaches that our heavenly Father wants to relate to us in many of the same ways. He calls us his children and is attentive to our prayers. He answers when we call on him, though hearing his voice is sometimes difficult. He engages with us, and wants us to know him and delight in his presence. He provides for us, though like any good father, he doesn’t give us everything we want. He teaches us. He corrects us and then forgives us when we mess up. He rejoices with us; he weeps with us.
God is an almighty Father, which means he’s never too tired to hear our pleas, he’s never unprepared for the things that turn us upside down, and he is waiting patiently for us at the door, ready to welcome us to our eternal home.
I have sometimes seen mothers and fathers set aside their own needs and desires and comforts out of love for their children. I have sometimes heard of mothers and fathers who sacrificed themselves out of love for their children. And in a world where there is often cruelty and neglect, I wonder where they could have learned such extravagant love?
My answer? The Bible says we are made in the image of God. There is a whisper and a shadow of our heavenly Father inside of us. He speaks to us parents, if we are listening. He watches over all of us, because we are his beloved children.