What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
So wrote A W Tozer in his influential book, The Knowledge of the Holy.
And as we have learned from last Sunday’s sermon, God wants us to know Him and relate to Him as a son to a Father — a Father who is in Heaven, seated on His throne, reigning in love and holiness. This picture of a father upon a throne makes most sense for those who are princes and princesses; that’s you and I — royal children of our fatherly King. If we know God as such, how wonderfully different everything would be!
But why do so many of us fail to grasp this vision of God?
If we are honest with ourselves, many hold a wrong image of God in their minds in spite of the clear teachings of scripture. Scripture remains just head knowledge.
I suggest that one reason this happens is our less-than-perfect relationship with our earthly fathers. This kind of association (conscious or unconscious) happens all the time. If I mention ‘Calvin’ (no offence meant to all Calvins out there!), you may think of that nice sweet boy who greeted you every morning in church, or that despicable man who broke your favourite character’s heart in the TV soap opera you just watched. Whichever associations come most to mind can influence your perceptions, attitudes and actions (like whether you’ll consider naming your child ‘Calvin’!). Sometimes they can even control us.
So, our view of God may get filtered through our experience with authority figures in our growing-up years. More specifically, think of God as ‘father,’ and memories of your relationship with your earthly father are likely to steer your thoughts one way or another.
Problems arise when we have had faulty relationships with our dads:
If our fathers were absent or distant, we may struggle to relate to God or think that He is available or even cares.
If our fathers were condemning or ridiculed us, we may see Him as one who is harsh and hard to trust.
If our fathers were weak, passive and easily dominated by others, we may view God as one whom we can easily rebel against, or even try to control.
If our father’s love was conditional (e.g. on good academic results), we may think that God’s unconditional grace and love are too good to be true. Instead, we may become performance-oriented and strive to earn God’s acceptance.
We need to let God’s Word shape the way we think of God as Father, and separate our image of God from our experiences with our past earthly authority figures.
Earlier I quoted Tozer, and now I would like to add to what he wrote by insisting that what God thinks of us is at least as important as what we think of Him. We are invited by God’s Word to consider how the Father loves the Son (John 3:35, 5:20, 15:9-10), and how this love has been poured out onto us who have been adopted into God’s family — that our joy may be full (John 15:11)! God also desires to give us good gifts as a Father to His children (Matthew 7:11), and when He disciplines us, it is done for our good (Hebrews 12:7-10) and under the covering of His love. Even if our earthly parents forsake us, God will carry us (Psalm 27:10).
So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 John 4:16).
Notice how John says that our grasping of God’s love for us comes through belief. This is not a blind belief, but one grounded on the sure knowledge of God as revealed through His Son, in His Word, by His Spirit.
When we have let the love of God the Father fill our hearts, we can find the grace to relate to our earthly fathers with love. If we have been hurt or let down, God’s love can enable us to forgive and to be healed from the wounds of the past; our sense of worth and our self-image will be shaped by what God thinks of us as His children. And for those of us who are fathers, we can let God’s fatherhood be the principal frame that shapes the way we father our children.
Oh let us press on to know God!
…God sent the Spirit of his Son into our lives crying out, “Papa! Father!” (Galatians 4:6, The Message paraphrase).