Father’s Day is here again bringing an opportunity to celebrate, honour and give thanks for the gift of fatherhood. Some may celebrate over a family meal, some may choose cards with dodgy dad jokes inside, and some dads will get new socks (because that seems to be what dads want apparently). Honouring fathers in our lives, dads who we love and who love us. Fathers who were present, who made time for us, who taught us stuff, who watched over us, protected us and shaped us. It is such a blessing to celebrate and honour those dads who love, nurture and sacrifice for their kids!
That’s not the universal story though. For many their experience of fathers is very different and I have been increasingly aware recently of many who have extremely difficult relationships with fathers. I have to admit that I struggle sometimes when I see general statements made on the radio, for instance, wishing everyone a Happy Father’s Day as I’m so conscious that this won’t be the case for everyone. For many Father’s Day brings pain and stirs up trauma from the past. For some there is loss revisited as an empty chair sits at the table. For some it is not a day for celebration but mourning. For some it brings feelings of rejection flooding back from a father who left with no explanation. For some a father who was abusive. For some a dad who was absent through alcoholism, others absent through workaholism. Some have fathers whose standards you were never able to meet. Some who were unable to earn their father’s love or acceptance. The weight of any of these circumstances can be unbearable. Today is Father’s Day for those people too.............just with a very different perspective.
I admit that as I come to this I’m blessed in having a dad who has loved us, provided for us, sacrificed for us, worked hard, taught us about integrity, and demonstrated a humble following of Jesus which even though I didn’t want much to do with Jesus for 20 years or so, I always admired his faith and devotion to Jesus. No father is perfect though and as a father myself now I’m constantly amazed at the ingenious ways in which our three kids seem to be able to highlight my imperfections. Getting them all out to school in the morning shines more light on the dark crevices of my heart than I would like and instigates more apologies by me to the kids than I can count. For me sometimes fatherhood has as much to do with knowing when I need to say sorry as about the things I get right. And I don’t know about you, but kids will put us adults to shame with how they model forgiveness. It tends to be instant, unconditional and full of grace. Maybe I just give them plenty of opportunity to practice!
As I said fathers are not perfect! My own imperfect attempts at fatherhood often have me leaning into the love and grace of God my Father and giving thanks that He is not like me. The Bible speaks to us of the saving work of Jesus but it also speaks to us about the adoptive love of a Father. When we repent and trust in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection we not only receive forgiveness for our sin and salvation but we at the same time are adopted into a family! Galatians 4 v4-5 says “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law so that we might receive adoption as sons”. We become sons and daughters of God, brothers and sisters of Jesus! That is one of the great wonders of the gospel! That because we are sons and daughters “God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts crying ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave but a son”(Galatians v6-7) And I truly believe that understanding this relationship will transform our faith and our lives! But to understand it we first need to know what kind of Father God is.
Scripture is littered with references to God the Father and how He loves His children. For me, however, one of the most compelling images of the Father heart of God comes in Luke 15 in the story most commonly called ‘the Prodigal son’. Tim Keller places the emphasis on a different character in this narrative though in his book ‘The Prodigal God’. He beautifully shifts the focus from the ‘wayward’ son to the prodigal father explaining that the word prodigal doesn’t mean ‘wayward’ as we have come to understand it, but as one definition puts it “recklessly spendthrift”. To spend until you have nothing left! That word ‘redeem’ in Galatians 4 means to obtain or set free by paying a price and used in this context we start to see that to save us and redeem us God spent until He had nothing left. It cost him his Son Jesus! All He had! That’s the extent of His love for us! God is truly Prodigal!
Both sons in the story are lost in very different ways but loved by the Father. The youngest son tends to take the focus of the story though. He demands his inheritance right now, gets as far away as possible, blows it all, becomes utterly destitute, starving, filthy, desperate and far from home. As he hits rock bottom and realises the how he has wronged his father and figures there is no hope for relationship anymore but maybe he can return as a servant, he practices his speech the whole way back but the plan doesn’t quite work out because the love of his Father intercepts him. Luke 15 v20 says “And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion and ran and embraced him and kissed him”. These are some of my favourite words because I love this picture of the Father running to the son, garment hitched up, no thought of dignity or how it looked, legs and arms pumping with a face of sheer joy as he eats up the ground to greet his son who was lost but now is found. This truth that by the time our hearts have been moved to repentance we find God the Father already running headlong towards us!
I love this imagery. I can picture occasions when my kids have done something which they shouldn’t have and I have caught that look on their faces that told me that they knew they had done wrong. On occasions where I have opened my arms and beckoned them to me, they have then buried their head in my chest and sob their apology freely and without prompting, where a harsher approach from me would have lead to argument and digging in of heels. It is the kindness of the God that leads us to repentance (Romans 2 v4) and so it is with the younger son. He is at the end of himself and remembers his Father and is immediately greeted by His loving embrace. A really powerful image from the sporting world that always gets me is Derek Redmond in a 400m race at 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona wherein he tore his hamstring half way round the track. Those who haven’t seen it check it out on this link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYQ2IyMuPes) but Redmond starts to hobble his way out of determination to complete the race even though the rest of the competitors have long finished. Struggling in agony, emotionally crushed and all alone on the track Redmond’s father bursts into shot ignoring those trying to stop him and discourage him and he grabs his boy as if to say “I’m getting you home son” and they complete the race. This love and devotion of the father is an iconic image in sporting history and this passage is a hugely visual representation of the Father’s love. The son barely able to get a few repentant words out of his apology as he is buried in the bear hug of his Dad and a massive party immediately being organised to welcome him home. The Father declares “For this my son was dead and is alive again, he was lost but now is found”. This is the extravagant love of God the Father! He is a Father of grace. He is a Father of compassion. He doesn’t make the son stew any longer than necessary.
God the Father won’t have us earn our way back when we have run from Him. He will not accept us as a servant to earn our keep or make it up to Him. He welcomes you as His child and He delights in you! If you have been running from God but turn to Him once more, you will receive His embrace! Whether you stink of pigs or worse, no matter how filthy, how broken, how destitute, how hopeless, God welcomes the repentant child into his arms! God isn’t a vengeful Father who is seeking to punish and humiliate but to forgive and restore. He is not ashamed by us! How often as fathers have we withheld or delayed forgiveness or made our kids stew? How often have we experienced that from our fathers? Where we apologise but have to grovel, have to earn our way back into their affections? Where we aren’t sure where we stand with them? This is not our Heavenly Father. He is a good father.
I just love this story! It bowls me over every time I read it! God is a Father who is transcendent over all experiences or definitions that we might try to place on Him. He is not like us! He is Creator, He is Holy, He is Judge, He is King, He is all powerful, He is Just, He is Perfect. He is all these things yet He is our Father who adopts us into his family through our faith in Jesus! It’s so vital that we grasp and understand our relationship with God through this lens. J I Packer said “To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved by God the Father is greater”. How true is that?! The Judge has not only paid our sentence but taken us in as His own child! That’s incredible.
This day we call ‘Fathers Day’ brings mixed emotions for many. If you can celebrate and honour fathers who are truly a blessing in your life please do so with great gratitude and joy! If you are haunted by loss or grief, weighed down by regret or shame, broken by abusive fathers, reminded of rejection, buried under expectations you couldn’t meet then you are on my heart today and I pray for healing, restoration, and comfort for you. Maybe you are a father who is buried under the shame of being so imperfect and eaten up by guilt for damage you may have been responsible for. Those pains can not be fixed by any empty words and should never be minimised, but I believe there is One who can heal you and who is the giver of grace for you. There is a perfect Father who will not harm you, will not abandon you, is not ashamed of you. He will discipline us and correct us in love. He knows what we need. He will restore us! He is a good Father. Whatever our experience of earthly fathers I pray that this ‘Father’s Day’ you can know the Father who through Jesus spent all that He had to pay your ransom, who adopts you, who runs toward you with arms wide open, who forgives you, who calls you not a slave or a servant but loves you as a son or daughter! Abba Father!