I have never had a problem going to God in prayer and calling Him Father.
I was raised in my church and in my home to refer to Him that way and my earthly father was a truly admirable man, one who sacrificed for his family, a hard worker who loved his family the best he could.
Not everyone has had my experience. All human fathers are not perfect. I know as a father that I am not. I have made my share of mistakes in the raising of my son. Some sons and daughters have strong negative associations from the word father due to extremely negative relationships with their earthly fathers. To pray to God the Father, they may have to find a way to forgive their earthly fathers. Their lives have been an effort to curry favor from a demanding earthly father or to avoid disobedience from an extremely punitive earthly father.
In short, these negative experiences get in the way of Christian obedience which according to John should not be burdensome because God’s children obey God as an act of love (John 1: 5:3).
Where did we get the idea of God as Father?
In the Old Testament, the rabbis of Judaism would not allow themselves to be that familiar with God. In fact, to refer to God as Abba or Father was seen as a sign of disrespect. Yet in Isaiah we read “O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand” [64:8]. In Malachi we read “Have we not one Father? Did not one God create us?” [2:10].
When we turn to the New Testament context, many Christians feel we are justified in calling God Father due to the wording of the Lord’s Prayer. When asked how to approach the Lord in prayer, Jesus said to simply use “Father.” He gave his disciples a special way to address God that had previously been His alone.
According to W. Bingham Hunter* this implies a new relationship with God, a new relationship that was different from the Old Testament relationship. First of all, God is capable of mercy, compassion and love for his children [us]. He has a personal interest in His children and a “consistent concern for their good.” God has a willingness to provide for the needs of His children and an ability to share mature knowledge, judgement and wisdom in the guidance and caring of His children.
From our point of view as God’s children, we should love, honor and respect our Father. We should know we depend on our Father. We should trust our Father’s judgement, His integrity and His abilities. In addition, we should be ready to obey our Father’s desires and will and if we cannot, we should accept our Father’s right to discipline us for our own good.
Unlike earthly parents, God is a perfect parent. He acts only for our good. He does not want to discourage us; He acts to encourage us. Unlike earthly parents, He does not use us to meet His own needs. When discipline comes, it is given to us in love, for our own good and never out of frustration and anger.
If we can just find a way to think of ourselves as God’s children, our obedience becomes a signal to Him and others that we love Him. This is perfectly in accord with the role we have on earth. In Matthew 5:16, we find we are to “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” Our obedience may cause others to offer their praise and thanksgiving.
Obedience opens up an avenue for prayer. God will not answer prayer that will encourage a disobedient lifestyle. A Christian who feels more obedient is more likely to be open to prayer communication with God. Over time, obedience can also train us to pray according to His will. The more we study the Word of God and the more we pray to God, the more we can begin to understand God’s motives. Of course, we can never see things from God’s perspective, but we can begin to understand which principles of behavior are aligned with God’s teachings.
As I stated earlier, some people have major hurdles to overcome to think of God as Father, but there are real benefits. In order to have a strong prayer connection with our Heavenly Father, it may be worth it to reconcile with an earthly father. If reconciliation is not possible, can you find it in your heart to forgive your earthly father his shortcomings?
To have a Heavenly Father to talk to can make a world of difference to you.
It has made a world of difference to me.
*author of The God Who Hears