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Years ago …
the staggering impact a father plays in his child’s concept of God was brought home to me in a counseling class. Jim Craddock, a pioneer in studying the tie between our relationship with our earthly fathers and our relationship with our heavenly Father, taught the class.
During the course, each of us took an inventory on how we perceived our heavenly Father in regards to a variety of issues. I zipped through the simple list checking the appropriate columns.
Later in the course, we filled out the same inventory, but this time we answered with respect to our earthly fathers. Again, I whizzed down the columns—until I recognized an emerging pattern. I quickly flipped back in my notebook to search for the first inventory. Stunned, I saw they were almost identical.
Where Daddy had a sense of humor, I knew God chuckled too. Where my dad was strict, I saw my heavenly Father frown. I was shocked to see that I’d projected the image of my dad onto my heavenly Father.
No matter how good a father may be, he is nowhere as good and consistent as God the Father. But what happens when our earthly Father is distant, absent, or abusive? The point of the class was not to make us feel bad about our dads, but to help us recognize negative feelings about God may have a logical basis. None of us have a pure view of God.
A friend took a seminary class that echoed this finding. Her class discussed the results of a survey done among self-professing atheists. Each one had suffered a damaged relationship with his or her father. Their fathers were typically described as either absent, abusive, or distant.
A Biblical Example …
This information helped me understand a verse that had puzzled me. Fifteen months before the birth of Jesus the angel Gabriel gave this prophesy about the upcoming birth and ministry of John the Baptist: “And he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children…to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Luke 1:17 ESV).
How did turning the hearts of the fathers to the children prepare the way for Jesus, I wondered.
Understanding the impact a father has on a child’s view of God brought sense to John’s mission. Loving, engaged fathers tenderize their children’s hearts toward the Father. Self-absorbed and emotionally disengaged fathers hinder their children from experiencing the unconditional love of our heavenly Father. Turning the hearts of the fathers to their children opened Israel’s arms to welcome God’s Son who came to show us the Father.
Two Modern Examples …
Josh McDowell, Christian author and speaker, is a modern day example of this. Did you know that this man who has impacted millions of lives for Christ entered college as an agnostic?
McDowell grew up with an alcoholic father. He set out to disprove the resurrection and debunk Christianity. Instead, he discovered the Savior and found a new Father. Jesus healed the wounds of his childhood and transformed his life. Read his bio here.
- S. Lewis’s mother died when he was ten. Lewis’s father shipped him off to school. The distant relationship with his out-of-touch father no doubt played a role in his becoming an atheist. But the story doesn’t end there. Christ pursued Lewis. Experiencing the love of his heavenly Father transformed Lewis into the great Christian author and influencer we so deeply love.
If you have struggled with feeling close to God or believing you belong to Him look at the relationship you had with your father. Could that relationship be affecting how you feel about your heavenly Father?
Our fathers—even those that were absent—profoundly affect our relationship with our heavenly Father. But they aren’t the only influence. Jesus came to show us the Father. Getting to know Him better transforms us and bridges any gap we may feel with our heavenly Father. The healing Josh McDowell and C. S. Lewis found is available to all who come to Jesus.
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