The fatherhood of God is an essential property of Christian theological thought, deriving its source from the interdependent persons of the Trinity; God the Father, Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit. The person of God the Father, understood in divergent manners, is both fatherly in the way He relates and a father in His very ontological nature (God the Father and God as father). God’s title as father is due to God’s trifold function as father of Christ, father of Creation and Father of His Children (humanity). Human fatherhood is both a derivative and an analogy to divine fatherhood:
“All human fatherhood is said to derive from the fatherhood of God (Eph 3:14-15), which shows that God is not called Father [solely] on the basis of a human analogy, as if human fatherhood was the nearest approximation to relationship between God and humanity. Fatherhood is seen rather to be inherent in the nature of God” (D Guthrie and R.P. Martin, 357, Dictionary of Paul and His Letters).
God’s fatherhood is a source and a model for earthly fatherhood, representing the penultimate example of how a father should relate to His children and all that is within His care. As Father, God is also the spring by which all good things have their very existence and life-blood. God is the source of life and being. In 1 Corinthians, Paul captures this idea:
“Yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom all things are and for whom we exist and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things are and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).
This concept of God as source is rooted in the Genesis narrative, where God creates, forms and molds humans into existence. It is similarly rooted in God’s providence and revelation. God is the giver of Scripture, of covenant promises, of divine insight and ultimately, the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, Son of the Father. God as Father is Creator and originator of all that exists. God as Father also indicates that God is a relational and personal being and not simply a cosmic energy or force. God’s personhood implies that there are attributes and characteristics that we can actually comprehend, understand and know (both intellectually and experientially).
From Scripture, we can glean a great deal about God’s fatherly relationship to us. First and foremost being that an essential part of God’s intrinsic nature is love. From this foundational block, we see and know that God cares and attends to our well-being (Romans 8:28), like any parent would their own child. God pursues us in our iniquity and seeks our prosperity, even when we seek destruction (consider the parable of the prodigal son). As we draw inward and collapse into ourselves, God offers us the hand to grasp so that He may draw us outside of ourselves and into new life in community with the Trinity and with the Church. Just as an earthly father comforts and cares for his children to soothe feelings of isolation, God the Father offers us the comfort of relationship with Him through the companionship of Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The intangible and often abstract identity of God the Father and God as father is certainly a challenging hurdle due to the distance and absence of God’s physical presence to those of us who call Him Father. How can we call God father when we can’t touch or embrace him like we would our very own flesh and blood? How can we call God father when his face is unseen and unknown to man? These mysteries are, to a great extent, unresolvable. We encounter God’s fatherly love, first and foremost, through the deposit of faith that has been handed down to us from generation to generation, telling of God’s promises to His children and their fulfillment in ages past. Like the stories of our earthly fathers and grandfathers, which have been passed down through history, the testimonies of God’s faithfulness to His children indicate the reality of His presence and action in the physical world.
Furthermore, we know of God’s fatherly love for us through the work of the Spirit in our own lives, who has been given to us as an advocate and a friend. In being grafted into Christ, we are now considered adopted sons and daughters of God the Father:
“See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are…” (1 John 3:1).
Just as God calls us His children, we respond by calling God, “our father.” In fact, the Early Christians often used the Aramaic word for father (Abba), which denoted a profound sense of intimacy and closeness. This was typically preceded by “my,” which amplifies the familiarity into the realm of something deeply personal. To call God father is to approach the divine with a deferential posture, to respect that which is far beyond our comprehension and yet intimately accessible through prayer and attentiveness to the Word of God in Christ, who speaks to us in a myriad of ways.
Some theologians have suggested a prayer practice called “imaginative prayer” as a way of making the abstract more concrete, both internally in our minds and externally, in our disciplines, our practices and our very lives. Imagining God as a father to us is an exercise that can incorporate our creativity and our intellect. This effort is driven by the human longing to simply be valued and heard, a desire that is most fulfilled when oriented towards God, who is the source and summit of all.
This may sound all well and good, even to someone who does not share or partake in the practice of the Christian faith. However, some may ask how or even why this is relevant. Others may look for practical applications and come up empty handed, confused or even angry. These responses are understandable. At the same time, there is a deep intuition that the subject of fatherhood remains both relevant and pertinent to contemporary audiences. Fathers have a sociological and psychological impact, within society at large and at the micro and familial level, which is ultimately where their influence is most felt.
At Damascus Way, our firm conviction is that the health and prosperity of a family system is contingent upon a number of factors. The wellbeing and presence of the father in a family is integral to a prosperous and thriving family. The research indicates that fathers are critical to the “successful emotional and educational development of children.” Conversely, the absence of a father significantly influences the future trajectory of children and is often a strong predictor of potential risks and harms, such as trauma and adverse childhood experiences. But it is not just the children who are negatively affected, because we know that the loss or limit of access to one’s children can also negatively affect the mental wellbeing of a father, which in turn increases the potential for recidivism (for those who have a history of incarceration).
At Damascus Way, it is our desire to advocate for fathers and their needs. As we look ahead into the future, we also want to explore family and youth services that work in tandem with our support for fathers. Once again:
“A growing body of research points to the positive effects on children having an involved father. On average, children whose father is actively involved tend to have fewer problems with school achievement, behavior and social interactions….”
Fatherhood is category of being that humanity is familiar with. Unfortunately, as the fabric of our modern culture frays at the edges, fathers are increasingly cast aside and devalued. Whether it be in the absence of public discourse gives voice to the issues that fathers face or in the systematic biases that dads face with custodial rights, there is an urgent need to speak to the identity and integrity of fatherhood. We honor our Heavenly Father by honoring the role and need for earthly fathers.
Damascus Way is proud of the work we are doing in supporting fathers with our Destiny Dads program! For those struggling daily to be better men and fathers for their children, remember that you are not alone and you’ll never walk alone, because you have a heavenly father who sees the great lengths and sacrifices that you make in order to adequately provide and protect your own.
“Honor your father and your mother, that you may live a long time in the land the Lord your God is giving you” (Exodus 20:12).