The Love of a Father
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Father. I do not know what comes to mind when you read that word. For me, ‘father’ seems quite serious, a bit authoritarian and a little intimidating. When I was a child, I was always a little scared of my friends’ fathers, no matter how nice they actually were. But what about the word ‘Daddy’? That is a whole different ball game, right? That word — that name — feels a lot more approachable. More personal, more intimate. ‘Daddy’ makes me think of my own dad: the serious academic who sent me a new dog video at least twice a week when I was away at uni. The one whose ‘dad jokes’ are second to none, and who gives some of the best hugs in the world. I am lucky with my dad. But I am acutely aware that this is not the case for so many other people, and to start talking about ‘father’ or ‘daddy’ brings up a whole range of emotions. Forget ‘crazy in love’, maybe talking about fathers just makes you crazy with anger, sadness or confusion, or just leaves you feeling overwhelmingly vulnerable. And often, words do not suffice in explaining or portraying the relationship — or lack thereof — that you have with your dad.
This means that when you hear Christians talking about God as their father, it seems ridiculous. How can you possibly understand God as a father when a) you cannot really see him, b) you do not fully understand him, and c) your earthly father has failed you, whether in large or small ways? I am not going to pretend I understand the fullness of what it means to call God ‘Father’, and I am not going to patronise you by telling you I know how you feel: I do not and I probably never will.
But what I am going to tell you is that God is not like our earthly fathers, whether they were wonderful, terrible, or somewhere in between. God is not a distant, authoritarian figure who stands back and condemns, or works too late and never really has time for us. God is a father who lavishes love upon us (1 John 3:1) and calls us His ‘children’. He is not just a father: He is a daddy. ‘Lavish’ is not a word we use much, is it? It means ‘to bestow something in generous or extravagant quantities’. I have never really had cause to look at something and consider it ‘lavish’, because you do not tend to see much ‘lavishness’ in day-to-day life. And yet we find it in the Bible, to talk not of material possessions but of love. And what a strange idea it is to think of the creator of the universe, of the one who is love Himself (1 John 4:8), lavishing love upon us. What have we done to deserve it? What must we do to prove ourselves worthy of it? Is it free, or is it more of a long-term loan situation?
Spoiler alert: we do not have to pay it back. This is not like your student loan (which, let us be honest, could never be described as ‘lavish’). This is a free gift. The love of God the Father: deep, close, intimate, unfailing love, lavished upon you. You have done nothing to deserve it, you do not have to prove yourself worthy, all you have to do is dwell in it.
It is not something I can really explain in words, this lavish love of God the Father. It looks and feels different for everyone. So I am not going to waste any more words trying to explain it, and instead I am going to encourage you to experience it for yourself. Because the wonderful thing about God, you see, is that you can talk to Him. He calls you ‘child’ and you can call Him ‘Father’. You can even call Him ‘Daddy’. And if you ask, I believe that He will show you just how lavish His love for you really is. So, a challenge: ask. Even something as simple as, ‘Hey, God, I’m not sure if You even really exist, but if You do, will You please show me how much You love me’. You might be surprised at the answer you get.
‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him’ (1 John 3:1).
WORDS BY Nell Goddard
Nell Goddard is Culture Projects Leader at The London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. Her first book, Musings of a Clergy Child: Growing into a faith of my own is being published by BRF in June 2017. Follow her @alianoree and check out her blog musingsofaclergychild.wordpress.com.