God Is Not an Absentee Father
Posted on June 8, 2014
I’m ambivalent whenever I hear the popular expression “Christ-centered.” It’s understandable why we’d use it. Jesus the Christ died for our sins and rose (1 Cor. 15:1f.). He’s the exact imprint of God to man (Heb. 1:3). He’s King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16). He’s our only mediator — there’s no salvation without him (1 Tim. 2:5). We disciples are called “Christians” (Ac. 11:26).
But we must always remember that there are two other members of the Trinity. They’re just as important as our Lord. There’s no hierarchy in the Trinity. That’s called subordinationism, and it’s heresy. Each member has a role to play in God’s plan for the world (his “economy”), but none is more important than the other.
We should be wary lest we deemphasize the Father and the Spirit. I want to talk about the Father today. I’ve quoted three important teachings in the Bible regarding the Fatherhood of God. But I want to do more than talk. I want the Holy Spirit to change our thinking about God. Of all the mental errors in the world, none could be more dangerous than errors about God.
Projecting human relationships onto God
Perhaps the biggest reason we entertain mistaken views about God is that we project human relationships onto our relationship with God. The most obvious example is our own fathers. There are no sinless fathers on earth. Even those of us who had faithful, godly, Christian fathers did not have sinless fathers. And it’s easy to project back onto God’s Fatherhood the relationship we’ve had with our own fathers. But that has things just backwards. God’s Fatherhood is the pattern toward which human fathers should strive, not vice versa. Our human fathers do not show us what God is like as a Father. God as the Father shows us what human fathers should be like.
I’d like to consider this morning whether some of our ideas about God have been mistaken. And if they have been mistaken, let’s pray that we can change that.
The Christian name for God
One more point of introduction: this topic is so important because, as J. I. Packer wrote: “‘Father’ is the Christian name for God.” There’re many names for God in the Bible: Yahweh (Lord, Jehovah), Jehovah Jireh (The Lord Will Provide), El Shaddai (Lord God Almighty) are just three. But the predominant Christian name for God is simply Father.
This is why Jesus begins the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Jesus constantly referred to God as his Father). This is why the Apostles’ Creed starts, “I believe in God the Father Almighty.”
This is not how unbelievers should mainly see God, but it is how we Christians should see God. The first and the main thing (by no means the only thing) we need to know about God is that he is our Father.
God could not have chosen a tenderer way to describe himself to his people. Let me prove this for you from the Bible.
The Glory of a Father’s Adoption
First, God has adopted us into his family.
Paul writes: “[Y]ou have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” “Abba” is a Hebrew word (though used here in the New Testament) of tender endearment. In English we might say, “Papa.”
Paul is saying that the Holy Spirit assures our hearts that God has adopted us into his family.
But God already had a family. We often don’t think of this. God has an eternal Son. Since that Son came into the world 2000 years ago, we Christians have known him as Jesus the Christ, Jesus of Nazareth. God wasn’t lonely. God has been a Father from eternity past. He’s never not had a child. But he wanted more children. He didn’t want more because his Son wasn’t sufficient. He wanted more because he wanted to share the great love and communion that they already had (Jn. 17:20–26). “This is so blessed, so fulfilling, so glorious,” the Father said, “that we need to share it with others.” And that’s why God created man and woman.
Of course, we are not God’s child in precisely the sense that Jesus is. He is fully God, and we are not. But we are no less God’s children than Jesus is (Rom. 8:17).
We’re here today, worshiping in God’s church, because God wanted more than one Son. He wanted more than one child. He wanted many sons and daughters.
Adoption contrary to nature
Adoption is not biological. It is contrary to nature. We adopt children that we cannot, or do not, birth biologically. This is a fascinating point. We cannot choose our biological children. We have them as they are given to us. But we choose our adopted children. A childless couple, for example, travels to Africa or China and inspects little boys and girls and chooses one. And if all goes well, and if they pay a hefty fee, and if they fill out innumerable forms, after a long time they might be able to bring that child home.
Understand that God the Father chose us as children: “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will” (Eph. 1:5). It was the Father’s will to gather more children into his family, and he chose each one of us as his child, and he has already determined our destiny that we will always be his children.
Think about the implications of this fact before we move on. God didn’t just choose children en masse. He didn’t just choose a group of children. He came by the orphanage, as it were , he inspected, that he chose us (when we were sinful and unlovely) to be in his family with him and with Jesus and with the Holy Spirit. With all of our sins and failures and unbelief, the Father still chose us. He wanted us to join him and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and to revel and rejoice with them and share their communion, and to be where they are eternally.
This is the Father of adoption.
The Tenderness of a Father’s Compassion
Second, our Father is compassionate to us. The Psalmist sings these lyrics:
As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
That expression “he knows our frame” means literally “he knows how we are formed.” Well, he knows how we are formed, because he’s the one that formed us. Let’s think about that creative act for a moment.
In Genesis we learn that God formed man from the dust of the ground; he breathed into man’s nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. This is man’s composition. The word “soul” in the Bible doesn’t have the meaning that the Greeks gave to it. For the ancient Greeks, the soul is the “real you” inside your body. Your body is a prison or a cage, and the soul is the “ghost in the machine.” When you die, the “real you” escapes and the prison or cage is gone forever.
In Genesis we learn that man became a living soul, that is, a living being, after God breathed into dirt that he had fashioned as a human body. It’s God’s breath in the dirt that constitutes man a living being.
Now let’s think back at the song that the Psalmist wrote. God is our Father. He has compassion on us just as a human father has compassion on his children. He knows our frame, that we are dust. God knows that we are dirt. He knows how weak we are. He knows how anxious we can be.
This week I was talking to a dear Christian man. He’s a local businessman. I’ve known him a long time. I was at his business, and he pulled me aside, and shared with me some of the great hardships he’s enduring at home and work. His wife suffers from a difficult cancer. The company for which he works has been putting pressure on him to move or be demoted. He suffering anxiety and panic attacks. I told him that I knew just what he was going through, and I stopped right there and prayed that our heavenly Father would calm his heart and meet the desires of his heart.
Our Father is not unaware of our dusty frame. He made that frame. He probably made us from dust so we can vulnerable, so that that we would rely entirely on him. He didn’t make us steel machines. He made us from dirt. Dirt is very weak and vulnerable. We are made marvelously, amazingly, in God’s image (Ps. 139), but we are still a composite of dirt and breath. God is our Father, and he wants us to trust his Fatherly goodness.
Father’s longing to protect and care for children
There’s something about men, the right kind of men, that impels them to have children. God places a desire in men to love and protect the weak and vulnerable. This is a main reason that a man wants to marry a woman, and it’s a main reason that he wants to bring children into the world. We don’t just want to play with them and have them love us. We have an innate desire to shower our goodness and our care and protection on a little, helpless life. This, too, is what impelled the Father — our Father — to adopt us into his family. We are weak and helpless and vulnerable. And he wants to show his great love and power and tenderness and mercy by caring for his children.
Those of you going through real difficulties today, remember this: God the Father longs to show compassion. In fact, he often allows us to go through hardships so we will turn to him as a heavenly Father. When our little children come to us and ask, “Dad, can you fix this?” our heart goes out to them, we know our obligation to them, and we would go to any length necessary to come to their aid. Know this: our Father will go to any length necessary to come to our aid.
The Father’s Desire for His Children’s Requests
Third, and finally, our Father wants to give us good things. Jesus invites his disciples:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
We often read the word of God, but we don’t think hard about what we read.
Jesus is contrasting human fathers negatively with our heavenly Father. He is saying: if our earthly fathers are sinful, and if they still care deeply for us, imagine how much our heavenly Father, who is not sinful, cares for us.
I’m afraid that many Christians, and perhaps some of us, have developed severely mistaken ideas of God on this point.
We sometimes think, “The important thing isn’t what I want but God’s sovereign will”. Of course, in the ultimate sense, that’s true. In another sense, it’s a slap in the face to God. Would you think of your own father that way? What if you heard your children say, “The important thing is not what I want, but what my father wants.” I daresay, that sentiment would not entirely please you. And there’s a simple reason for this. You want your children to know that one main thing you long for is to give them things that they want. You want them to know that you want to do good things for them. You don’t want them to think that you do not care about them, that all you care about is getting your own way all the time. God does get his way, but please understand that one big way that God gets what he wants is to please his people.
God is more loving, more caring, more interested, more compassionate, and more selfless than any human father could be. Therefore, he wants to “give good things to those who ask him.”
Don’t deprive God of his Fatherly delight
Think harder with me: if God wants to do good things for us at our request, we are depriving him of what he wants by refusing to ask him for good things. If your children never asked you for any good things, would that silence please you? I dare say, it would annoy and sadden you.
Question: Are you a better father than God? If not, we need to get busy asking God the Father for good things, because as a loving father he delights to do good things for his people. Do not deprive him of his fatherly delight.
Let’s review: (1) God our Father adopted us into his family; he chose us to be Jesus’ brothers and sisters. (2) God our Father is compassionate to us as his children; he knows our dusty frame. (3) And, finally, God our Father wants to do good things for us; let’s not deprive him of what delights him as our Father.