So now that Raphael has come I am a father, I have been thinking.
I know that God is our father, but I have been grappling with a full translation of that means. When talking with people about what this looks like, it is easy to simply say that out father in heaven will take care of us and not allow bad things to happen and always come through, which are comforting things to say. But things do not always play out in this way. What I mean is that yes I understand that God is our father, but do we really understand what a good father is? I read verses like Mathew 7:7-11
7“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11If 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!
I read that and I think it does seem quite simple. But in reality it rarely seems to work out that way.
I am sure that in a few years Raphael will come to me and ask not for a fish, as we tend to avoid seafood, but more appropriately for a burrito, and I being a great father, I will happily agree, assuming it is meal time and not spoiling any other planned food. I understand how the transaction/relationship works and yet I do not find that it is that simple with my heavenly father.
Things do not always seem to be given, get answered, get better, or become immediately clear.
I have spent many hours, days, years even asking for things that I do not see the answers to of yet. I know the qualifiers in James about not asking in selfishness and asking in doubt. Yet I still see very little answers to specific prayers and requests that this passage in Mathew makes so simple.
Is it my understanding of a good father that complicates matters? I would agree any good father would give something to a son that was within reason and relatively ease as the verse in Mathew seems to indicate. This jives with a human understanding of what a father would do, the verse even implies that evil fathers do this. But often my experience with God is not that simple. I ask and do not receive and after enough time my requests start to seem like they are being ignored. Sometimes though they do seem like they are answered, but with stones, and sometimes sharp ones that were hurled in my direction.
This would makes me conclude that God is not a father or at least not a good father, but, these are unacceptable options to a Christian. So perhaps my idea of what a father is, is not quite right.
So is it possible that when the Bible uses the term father that it is trying to communicate some theological truth to the way God loves and interacts with his creation rather than giving a label to how things actually work based on our limited knowledge of fathers? God after-all put his own son to death and asked a similar thing of Abraham. And Christ tells us that to follow him is meant to mean taking up our own crosses and following him to Calvary, death. Death seems more like a stone than a fish.
Perhaps my ideas of good parenting falls short of what God actually does with his people. Perhaps my idea that a father would do everything in his power to help his child avoid pain is wrong. Perhaps my idea that a father would give a child something that was easily within his power to do so is wrong. Perhaps my idea of even answering a child in what appears to be a timely manner is wrong. Perhaps my demanding that God act in a way that I interpret any good father would act towards a child is wrong. And that, is hard.
God has his own will that I am supposed to seek. I can ask but often my will is probably not what is best. I think the metaphor of the father does not always communicate what we think it means. I know that there are a lot of positive ways to answer the question of “well why not?” A parent will obviously refuse a child who asks a request that will cause them harm, I get that. The rub again is when the request is just for help or for a job or for relief or for direction or for protection, and they simply seem to go unanswered.
Answers come in his timing and will, now this is different from an earthy father. God our Father is sovereign, he is just, he is love, he is God. He has more behind the meaning of father than my limited understanding. His timing and will are perfect, our earthy fathers are not. It often feels like he is more interested in my growth than my happiness, and that is also different than an earthy father. In the asking, in the waiting, God is with us. Maybe he is not offering immediate relief. Maybe he is offering his presence. This is something much more than any earthy father can offer. I cannot always be there for Raphael simply because I will not always be present.
So maybe there is a better way that God fathers than I can manage, a way I can’t fully understand, and that is good thing. He fathers by causing me to grow and being present with me. He fathers better than I can hope or imagine. He loves me.