From our father.
Why do I say that?
Because God is called "Father." Thus, we often associate our father with God the Father. We assign the attributes of our earthly father to God the Father. Unconsciously, we assume God the Father is like our earthly father. Thus, if our earthly father treated us harshly, we think God the Father is harsh. If our earthly father often was absent, we think God the Father is not always present either. The list of examples is endless. As I listen to people's stories, I often discover this to be true; their God has been shaped by their image of their father.
My own father spent much time working. He had a full time job and usually several part-time jobs to make ends meet. If I wanted to spend time with him, I would have to work with him on his part-time jobs. So, what did I learn about my heavenly Father from my father? If I want to experience God's presence, I have to be working. God doesn't relax and just spend time with a person. I have little value unless I am working. My earthly father had a great number of positive qualities, but these ideas may have skewed my view of God.
So, what happens if a person did not have a father in the home?
In a recent article in CT, Pastor Christopher Brooks from Detroit, MI was asked this question about the urban ministry of his congregation, and this is how he responded:
CT: You've said that the decline of the family, or the lack of intact families with a father present, is the biggest challenge to discipleship.
Pastor Brooks: We are proclaiming a gospel that God is the Father who loves us, who sent his Son to die for us. The very terms are hard to even relate to if you don't know a father.
Think about this for a moment. You're an African American child growing up in a single-parent, female-led home. Your mom is struggling to meet the bills. Who makes up for housing and food and all those things? The government does. Government becomes a quasi-father.
Now consider 2008, when a black President was elected. Now Dad has a face. If a social conservative tells us to "vote your values," meaning vote for the Republican candidate, for the minority population it's like saying, "Reject your dad." My own children aren't going to wrestle with that because government isn't their dad. They have a father in the home. So they're able to approach government on the merits of Scripture, without any of that confusion around identity and psychology. Government is just government to them, because Dad is providing all those things.
So we had better show them what a father is, what a family is, so that when we see analogies to family relationships in the Bible, they can relate. When John writes, "What manner of love is this that we should be called the sons of God?" what does that look like? If I can see that in a visible example, the text will come alive.
I believe Pastor Brooks hit the nail on the head in the final paragraph. We need to show people what a father is, because many have never experienced a father. For their congregation, this led to the emphasis of foster care and adoption. This might not be an answer for you and I, but you and I need to find ways to minister to people who have had no fathers or unhealthy relationships with fathers if we want them to have a personal living relationship with our heavenly Father. I don't have any great ideas on how to do this except through investing much time and energy in loving the person. Though you might be the wrong gender or the wrong age to be the person's father, some of the traits of the heavenly Father can be passed on to that individual. Plus, you can keep pointing a person to our heavenly Father who is so much more than any earthly father has ever been.