July 18, 1988. Today I left my family for it seems the millionth time. I remember my three and a half year old little boy Scott standing on the steps of our home waving good bye and yelling “I love you Daddy!” as I left for the University of Kentucky where I was pursuing a Ph.D. Then he yelled “I will take care of Mom!”. I started crying as I forced myself to look away from my son and my wife, my home. Later in the day, I made the “check-in” call after I arrived at my destination. My wife told me my son would not come in from the porch after I left. He sat out there for the longest time and when she went to bring him in he said, “I want my Daddy” and began to cry. I finished the call and had such anguish.
J.I. Packer writes about the “new” relationship that Christians have in the coming of Jesus Christ. “In the New Testament we find that things have changed. God and religion are not less than they were; the Old Testament revelation of the holiness of God, and its demand for humility in man, is presupposed throughout. But something has been added. A new factor has come in. New Testament believers deal with God as their Father. Father is the name by which they call Him. Father has become the new covenant name—for the covenant that binds Him to His people now stands revealed as a family covenant. Christians are His children, His own sons and daughters, His heirs” .
But what if your earthly father is not the best father that one could hope for? Can that cause problems?
I am commenting on the section of Packer’s book which deals with what he calls the “most important matters” and he describes the idea of God as Father as the “climax of the Bible”. In the Old Testament, God had the name of Yahweh, Jehovah, the Lord, certainly not Father. God said Himself I am “The Great I Am”, the one who is completely Himself. He is that way to separate Himself from everything else. He is the cause of everything Packer states God is “the reality behind all reality, the underlying cause of all causes…self existent, sovereign, and wholly free from constraint by or dependence on anything outside Himself, certainly not connected to man. The Old Testament God is a mystery and His mysterious nature was designed to cause man to feel awe before His divine nature, not closeness.
Then Jesus Christ came to decrease distance between God and man. After the death of Jesus, man could come near to his God. All that is necessary is to have faith in His Son, to have knowledge of His saving work. Ephesians 3: 12 states “In Him and through faith in Him, we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” “Since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith” [Hebrews 10: 19-22].
Again, we can draw near to our Father but can we really draw near if our earthly father is “inadequate, lacking wisdom, affection or both” [Packer, 203]. What happens if your earthly father is not the best father that one could hope for and that is your experience, your knowledge base?
I might have my anguish about my poor performance as a father but a son blaming his earthly father experience as the reason for not accepting The Heavenly Father is a “cop out” according to Packer. Packer labels this idea as “silly” . He cites the value of contrasting relationships. Many sons have a drive to be better fathers than their own fathers; they resolve that they will not make the same mistakes. Many are successful in their resolve. Another problem is the quest for the perfect father. The “perfect” earthly father does not exist. It is easy to idealize fatherhood, saying “I have never known what it is to have a father on earth, but thank God I now have one in heaven.” The idea is that earthly fathers should be as perfect as The Heavenly Father. That bar is too high. Packer does not think it is healthy to think things like this; people will always fall short of The Heavenly Father.
I have just spent a paragraph commenting on the Packer’s belief that poor earthly fathers do not necessarily ruin relationships with The Heavenly Father. Now let’s look at how God gives us clues regarding right relationship with our fathers. Packer cites Ephesians 1:3 which says “all fatherhood, earthly or heavenly derives its name [from God].” God presents His relationship with Jesus as the universal standard.
Are there any particulars that we can learn from this? John 1:12 says “Yet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.” From this we can learn that as God has accepted us, we should accept our own children with love. We need to come to grips with the fact that Jesus’ Father is our Father; before Jesus ascends to be with His Father, He tells His disciples in John 20:17 “Do not hold on to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” It feels good to make family feel included; it feels good to be included in the family of God.
When we feel we belong to God, Packer calls that “sonship” and obviously sonship is the supreme gift of God. We read in 1 John 3: 1 1 John 3:1 “ See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him.” This sets us apart and makes us feel important as all children can be made to feel important if they feel their father’s love. 1 John 5: 1-3 says “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the Father loves His child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out His commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome.” 1 John 3:10-17 points out that as family members we have new wonderful relationships with our family “This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister. For this is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another. Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous. Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him. This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” These new feelings spring naturally from our relationship with our Heavenly Father. Right relationship with the Heavenly Father inspires right relationship with earthly brothers and sisters.
Finally our behaviors become new as our relationship with our Heavenly Father is new. A privilege of sonship is that we can live a life of more righteousness and avoidance of sin. An earthly child who wants a good relationship with an earthly father will make more effort to be respectful of a father’s wishes and as behavior improves, fathers should show appreciation.
In short, we see what God’s fatherhood implies for Jesus; therefore, those same ideas apply for Christians.
Yes, the coming of Jesus Christ is a climax of the Bible because His life and death showed man that the distance between God and man is no longer relevant. The coming of Jesus Christ established a new relationship between people of faith and God, a relationship of Father and son and Father and daughter. Believers are no longer on the outside looking in. When we pray to God, we can have assurance that Our Holy Father is listening.
I have asked forgiveness for my poor performance as a father and I don’t get the idea that my son holds it against me anymore. I got that Ph.D. at a horrible cost to my whole family, but there came a time when I realized that the choice to continue on was really a bad one. I have articulated my regrets to my son and my wife, admitting my mistakes. I have worked hard to make up for a lack of closeness and connectedness and to some extent I think I have made amends. I can’t go back in time. However today, my son knows I love him. I know he loves me. I have written about this before but I found God through faith in His Son Jesus Christ [the latest writing in the previous post, April 15, 2020 St John Studies]. That has made a momentous difference in my life and my son knows that. It has taken some time, but I can say I have a right relationship with my son. It is not my doing; it is Gods. Sometimes in life we have to make errors and in the making of the error, we learn.
I still go back in time when I read that journal entry from 1988.
I read that writing, I know that anguish, I know the pain I caused…
And I cry…
I accept the responsibility and know that God is in control. To be where I am today, I had to go through some hard times. Maybe it was His plan for me to cause so much pain and have so much regret so I could eventually see The Light.
Maybe it is His plan for me to eventually find a way to be His son.
So I can find a way to be a father to my son.
To just love him, with all my heart…