Saturday, June 16, 2012

Our Father in Heaven? Father's Day Musings on an Ancient and Sometimes Difficult Metaphor

I am grateful for my dad. My father did everything he could to provide his kids with the best childhood possible. But for me, the best memories I have with my dad revolve around a shared interest: baseball.

Baseball was more than a hobby in our family, it was the air we breathed. We spent hours at the local fields hitting buckets of balls and working on my footwork as a catcher behind the dish. My dad coached and our family traveled near and far as I played for a variety local and travel teams.

Oriole Park at Camden Yards was also our home away from home. The stadium was more than where we watched the Orioles win and lose many o' games. The Yard was where we shared life. The diamond became a sanctuary for conversations and life lessons. I always knew my dad was someone I could go to. I could trust him. He would listen. Baseball was simply a platform for these sorts of interactions.

These are all reasons why my dad was also my best man in my wedding.

While we have our share of differences, we remain close to this day. We are both in ministry and do the best we can to love God and love neighbor as we follow Jesus in Catonsville, MD and West Chester, PA.

I did not fully appreciate the relationship I had with my dad until I became a father of boy and girl twins nearly 14 months ago. April 21, 2011, will forever be the greatest night of my life. My kids have already taught me more about joy, hope, love, laughter, prayer, and trust than I ever learned in all the years that lead up to their arrival. My hope and prayer is that I will be able to be at least as good of a father to my children as my own father was to my siblings and me.

But for some, the hope is to be a better father than the one they had, or the one who left, or the one whom they never met. Many have strained relationships with their fathers, were neglected by their fathers, or were tragically abused by their fathers. Many fathers have perpetuated cycles of violence and dysfunction, leaving children to hope that just maybe they could be the ones to break the cycle.

Some have longed to become fathers and still wonder if that day will ever come; maybe that day never has come.

The term "father" does not always conjure up positive memories from childhood and adolescence. The word "father" can actually serve as a reminder of the very opposite, digging up all sorts of difficult and painful experiences past and present.

Yet, throughout Scripture and the history of Christian theology, God is confessed as Father.

When the disciples ask Jesus how to pray, Jesus responds, "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name..." (Matthew 6:9). Why Father?


Didn't God know that when some people heard that God was "Our Father in heaven" they would think, sure, God is...

...distant.

...uninvolved.

...unknown.

...unconcerned.

...another dominant male power.

This sad reality has lead some to abandon altogether language that references God as Father. While I am not ready to do that, I can understand why some may be.

Thankfully, God as Father is not the only metaphor used in Scripture. Still, it remains a very important one. God as Father was an ancient motif which referenced heritage, genealogy, and the ability to pass on an inheritance and call forth a people. God as Father was a reminder that all of humanity shares a common origin.

Jesus' reference to God as Father was also a means to remind those within earshot that family within the kingdom he inaugurated transcended bloodlines, birth orders, and ethnicity. Jesus' response to pray to "our Father" was yet another witness to the good news that the human family was to be reconciled by his very own life, death, and resurrection. That is, in Jesus all walls of division crumble and all find a home in new and inclusive community of faith, hope, and love (Ephesians 2).

Our Father in heaven is a grand announcement that God's love for us and the whole world cannot be trumped by any earthly power, struggle, system of exclusion, or dead-beat dad. It's source is from somewhere else and at the same time meets us right where we are. It's an on-earth-as-in heaven kind of love.

It would be too large and irresponsible of a task for this blog to launch into any further discourse that defended a theology of God as Father. So I will refrain. And I don't like apologetics anyway.

Instead, this Father's Day when I pray the "Our Father," I will choose not only to celebrate the gift of my father in Sykesville and my children who climb all over the furniture as I type this post, but also for all those who have strained histories with their fathers, those who long to become fathers, those who have lost children, and those who were abused as children. I will covenant to pray for those for whom any reference of God as Father brings not echoes of hope, but winces of pain.

I will also pray for the day to come when earth will be as it is in heaven. When all relationships will be reconciled and all tears are wiped away.

When all will be made new by Our Father in heaven.

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