Have you ever thought about the meaning of the word Father?
You’ve probably never needed to, because it seems so obvious… so self-evident. I used to think so too, until recently.
I was going through a “dark-night-of-the-soul” period where I found it difficult to pray. For some reason, it just stopped making sense speaking to a God that was invisible and immaterial. Whenever I closed my eye to pray, I was overwhelmed by the whole absurdity of the act. It just felt like talking into the air, into nothingness.
That’s when someone suggested a rather cliche solution: that I read the Bible and look at the way the people in there addressed God. Most specifically, how Jesus prayed and taught his disciples to address God.
Jesus called God His Father.
“Our father who is in heaven,” he taught us to pray. It sounded straightforward enough, except my main challenge was in conceptualizing God as a Father.
Many Christian counselors suggest that people who have difficulties thinking of God as a Father usually had a bad experience with their earthly fathers. They don’t know what is so good about having a father, and so they struggle to embrace a God who approaches them as one.
But the situation seemed different for me. This wasn’t about my earthly father. Growing up, my relationship with dad was more or less “normal.” My problem was a more philosophical one: How can I address God as “father” with a straight face when I know that God is Spirit and not human. Isn’t the word “Father” just an anthropomorphism of a being that is beyond our comprehension?
Well, I was in for a great (and pleasant) surprise.
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word father as: “a male parent” or “a man who is thought of as being like a father.” Another alternative definition is: “one related to another in a way suggesting that of father to child.”
Beyond these surface definitions, Mr Charles and George Merriam and Mr Noah Webster don’t tell us much about what is actually involved in “being a father”, or what qualifies a man to be one.
Stay with me now. When you consider every aspect of what it means to be a father, you will quickly realize tat no single human being perfectly fits the description.
Does biology make one a father?
It is obvious that many who have contributed the Y chromosome to the existence of a child cannot quite be called the fathers of the child. This is especially if they have not contributed in any way to the raising of the child. These men fail to fit the “father” description because something, a relationship, is missing.
Does nurture make one a father?
In fact, there are many children being raised by men who are not related to them biologically, men who are married to their mothers, men that they call fathers. Even so, many who have been raised by men who were not their biological parents often say of these men, “he is like a father to me” as if he is not quite a father. Something is missing in the picture.
Does the law make one a father?
Or is it the law? Does legal adoption qualify one to be defined as a true father? And if so, why do we still feel the need to qualify the father title with an adjective such as “my adoptive father”. Somehow, we instinctively know that they are not quite the true definition of father.
Is it all three?
But even in the now increasingly rare case where one is raised up by the father who shares the same genes, these fathers still fall short. You may be biologically related to your father, he may be the one that raised you and his name may even be in your legal birth certificate, but he still falls short.
Earthly fathers don’t always love their children and when they do it is never a perfect love. Earthly fathers don’t always provide and when they do it may not be the best kind of provision. Even when they try their best, their humanity is a guarantee that they will never be the 100% father.
The fact that they are fallen human beings means that they will inevitably not measure up at being fathers.
The True Father
So who is the true father? Who fits the bill? Who meets all the criteria? Who is the one we can look at for any idea of what it means to be a perfect father? In other words, where do we get the idea that there is something like a 100 per cent father and yet no single human being has ever fit the mold? How do we know that the kind of fathers we have here on earth are less than ideal?
I found the answer when I went back to the Bible with my struggle. In the Words of scripture, I encountered a Father who fit the description, who met the criteria, and never disappointed. In the God of the Bible, I found not just the true definition of a perfect Father, I found the embodiment of that Father.
In my confusion, I thought it more realistic to address a human father than to address an invisible spiritual father. Yet the reality is that the human father was a false reality. No human being deserves to be called father. Not the man who contributed to your genes, and not even the man who raised you up. Only God fits the bill.
In fact, our earthly fathers are poor imitations of the true Father. Even the best of human fathers are mere glimpses of the perfection that is in our glorious heavenly Father. In other words, there is no truer and realer illustration of a human being talking to his father than that of a man praying to his God.
I am no longer struggling to pray. In fact, it is becoming more absurd to take my troubles to human beings instead of to God. I have learnt that prayer is the realest and truest form of communication I could ever take part in. Because in prayer, I am speaking to the only one who not only hears my words, but perfectly understands my words and perfectly responds to those words.
Through prayer, I can, for the first time in my life, talk to my real Father.