Sometimes I think God could stand to do a little better with His own PR. For example, why in the world did He pick “Father” as one of the main analogies for our relationship with Him? And if He was going to do that, why did He allow it to be so hard to be one? I’m not talking from experience, of course, but it seems like it must be hard to be a father–a good one, anyway–because there are so many people out there who have problems with their dads. It seems like He could have picked a metaphor that was a little less difficult to get over.
When I was a nanny down in Nannyville, shortly out of college, it seemed like all of my close female friends had issues with their dads. The issues were legitimate. Mostly they had to do with some sort of physical abuse. I could not identify at all. I have a great relationship with my dad. He was always my go-to person when I had a problem; the amount of time he spent listening to me rattle on about perceived slights and dashed hopes and petty conflicts . . . Well, I didn’t have a blog at the time . . .
The analogy of God as Father always worked for me, because I have such a good one. Early on in my decision-making process regarding whether or not to go to London, I spent one afternoon completely freaking out because I suddenly realised I hadn’t prayed very much about the decision, and here I was, applied and accepted and about to start raising financial support. I had this view of God at the time (which I still sometimes default to by mistake because it was so deep-seated) that He loved me and had a wonderful plan for my life, but that anything I might wish to be part of that wonderful plan would automatically not be, because I wished it. I had grown up wishing to be a missionary and to live in England and I had previously thought the two were mutually exclusive. Now here I was, about to receive both wishes at once, but because I hadn’t gotten down on my knees or something and spent sufficient time (whatever that was) asking if this was okay, I began to doubt myself and my plan.
This was also a phase in my life where I was particularly drawn to mysticism, but the attraction to it seemed more to rile me up and heap me with guilt than to centre me and give me peace, so as sat in the private library of the house where I was a nanny, while my charge napped in the next room, I began almost to hear voices. They weren’t literally audible voices, but the thoughts were running rampant in my head, and they kind of had personalities: big, bold accusing thoughts and weasly insidious rebelling thoughts and frightened submissive thoughts, and they flew thicker and faster and I thought I might be going crazy. I was reading a devotional book, but things were only getting worse and then suddenly a different kind of Thought cut across all the other ones, and it said, “Think about your father.”
I’m not one of those people who hears the voice of God audibly, but that moment (and maybe one other time) came pretty close. I stopped. All the crazy thoughts stopped. I thought about my father. I don’t remember what I thought about him. I’m sure I remembered all our walks and all his listening. I might have thought of the time when I was eight and he almost drowned trying to rescue a Mickey Mouse beachball for me that had blown into the sea. (I’m really glad he didn’t–that memory gives me a stomach ache every time I think about it, but I do think it says something about how much my father loves me.) Maybe I thought about his telling stories to me and my brother, or playing with us and the neighbourhood kids after school. Anyway, I thought about my father. Then the Different Thought said, “I love you more than that.” Then I remembered when Jesus said, ““Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7.9-11, NIV).
I began to bawl. He hadn’t directly answered my question about whether to go to London or not, but He had answered my fears about somehow inadvertently angering Him, and about whether or not I could possibly want something He also wanted.
All that to say, the God-as-Father picture has been pretty helpful for me, but sometimes I wonder if I’m the only person. Some of my female friends who struggled with that image all those years ago have come to terms with God as their much-better-Father, and some of them hang onto their faith simply because of what they see in Jesus, even though they still can’t get their heads and hearts around the father thing. And some, no doubt, have walked away from Him altogether.
Now, ever since I’ve come back to New England, it seems like it’s my male friends who have the issues with God as Father. No wonder. What else do you do when your birth-father abandons your family for another one, or when you can’t measure up to your father’s unreachable ideals for you, or when your father can’t measure up to your ideals for him? Any exposure to the God of the Bible after that comes through marred-father lenses, particularly because God kind of introduces Himself as Father. Jesus’ words about earthly fathers who give good gifts to their children ring hollow because yours didn’t or couldn’t. The God of wrath might feel all too familiar, or the transcendent God might feel as far away as your own dad, or the God who demands obedience may remind you of guilt you rid yourself of long ago. I suspect it may be harder to have father-issues as a man, because you might be a father yourself, and all your doubts and uncertainties about the role come into your consciousness, whether you want them to or not.
I kind of believe that maybe God picked “Father” as one of His personal metaphors precisely because He knows how hard it is to be one. He knows the pain of rebellious children and the agony of losing One. I kind of think He wanted to redeem the title–to show us what a Father is really meant to be like. I think He can do it, too. But some of the Biblical passages are so difficult to swallow, and some of our fathers are so difficult to forgive, that how we can ever get to the point of seeing Him as He wants us to see Him–as He really is–seems essentially impossible. Which is why, sometimes, I wonder about His PR a little bit.