Who is God? What is He like? In the bible, we read of Him as a friend, a Savior, a comforter, a Shepherd, the Almighty, and also a Father. Each of these images paints a picture in our minds of God’s identity. But what is a father? In the book, Theology the Basics, Alister McGrath explains the different ways Christians see God. McGrath explains God as a Father noting, “As Jesus Christ pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, even human fathers want to give good things” (McGrath, 2018). Unfortunately, this quote is grossly inaccurate for society today. Not everyone has a father who wants to do good things for them, thus preventing them from understanding the true meaning of God as a Father.
The imagery of a good father is misconstrued by many. In America today it was reported, “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.7 million children, more than 1 in 4, live without a father in the home” (National Fatherhood Initiative). This statistic is not only based on whether a child’s biological father is at home or not but also step-father or adoptive father. How is it possible for children without fathers to understand God as Father? What do these fatherless children imagine every time they recite the Apostles Creed starting with, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth” (2019)? Both of the words ‘father’ and ‘almighty’ can have completely different connotations depending on whether they are someone with or without a father.
Even those with fathers may not fully understand the characteristics of a father who wants to give good things. A father who has unconditional love for their child. A father who is there when their child falls and scrapes their knee. A father who encourages, even as his children fail time and time again. A father who enters the pain and darkness that their child might face. A Father who is willing to sacrifice His life in order to save His children. The book of Matthew states, “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matthew 1:23 NLT) Sadly, not everyone has a father who is there, as our God our Father is.
Growing up, I had an absent father. When he was around, he wasn’t mentally there, usually due to his battles with alcoholism and mental illness. Every Sunday I would go to mass and recite the Nicene Creed with fear in my heart. Was my God the Father Almighty? Was He a God who wanted to punish me physically for my sin? In my second grade class, after two years of Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, CCD for short, I began to question who God was. I heard the teaching of God as Father, and for me and my experience, I was devastated. I thought that for any of my small sins I committed, like not doing my chores, God would physically punish me or cause harm emotionally to me.
Upon reflection and further study of who God is through theological teachings and biblical depictions, I have realized what God the Father Almighty really means. Although it took something that shook me to my core to begin the process, it was important to realize the bias my own experiences brought to Scripture when it referred to God as Father.
The continued cycle of absent and abusive fathers is deeply concerning, especially because it causes us to miss an essential part of God’s character. As I continue to grow and be surrounded by men who are fatherly figures as well as continue to deepen my relationship with God, I have a fuller understanding of what it truly means to understand God as the Father Almighty.
Media by Russell Lamb.