The following is a guest column by Edith Schaeffer, L’Abri Fellowship, Huémoz, Switzerland.

Unhappily the word “father” has a garbled meaning for many people today. It needs redefinition, not just in words but in understanding and in daily life. Some people stiffen up inside when you say that God is a Father to us. “Father” to them means a person with whom there is no communication, who cannot understand one’s thoughts, feelings, or actions, who must be avoided or from whom one must run away. Even Christian fathers often portray the very opposite qualifications of what a father is supposed to be.

In time that boy who has reacted against the concept of “father” he has known is himself a father. Where is his pattern? How can either he or his children know when the right pattern is being followed, or deviated from?

It is all backwards when a spoiled pattern is followed and handed down year after year, and people forget what the original pattern was like. It is all backwards when men turn from God because they can’t stand the word “father,” and attribute wrong things to God. “The everlasting Father” is also “the Prince of Peace.” Jesus when he came said, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” But the Father as Jesus demonstrated him to men is the same One who promised in Jeremiah 31:9,

They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk by the rivers of waters in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel.

A father is meant to be one to whom his children come when they are in trouble or sorrow; one to whom they run when they are being pursued by an enemy, to whom they come for shelter from any kind of storm. A father is supposed to be a person who can be trusted to understand and care, who will listen to any kind of communication even when others turn away. Listen to David as he speaks in Psalm 61:

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer. From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For thou hast been a shelter for me and a strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in thy tabernacle forever: I will take refuge in the covert of thy wings.

A father should be the first one the child would think of communicating with when overwhelmed by physical woes, emotional problems, confusing philosophies, conflicting ideas about what he is to do. A father is meant to be a shelter. A shelter shuts out wind, rain, ice, cold, heat, sand, mosquitos, or armies of men. A father is meant to be a strong tower of protection. The very word “father” should conjure up a feeling of security.

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The shelter of God the Father shuts out dangers but also shuts one in to the realities of fulfillment. A family around a fireside sharing ideas and experiences in an atmosphere of warmth and caring pictures in a minimal way the perfection of God’s Fatherliness. He is always ready to listen and advise, and “in his presence is fullness of joy.”

We are told that an eagle flies under the baby eaglets in order to catch them if they fall while learning to fly. In this way God pictures the ready refuge we may expect from him. Not only is he ready to gather us under his wings to shelter us from dangers, but he cares enough to stay close, as the eagle flies directly under, in order to be ready when the moment comes. This is a far cry from the father who waits to pounce upon his child’s every mistake so that the child fears to be anywhere near the father when he falls. God’s perfect fatherliness is one of loving care, realizing that falls will come.

Too often “discipline” is all the word “father” means to a child. The right discipline is to be fair, and Jesus urges fathers to stop and think before acting when he says, “Fathers, provoke not your children to wrath.”

God the Father shows us clearly that a father is meant to be the one person who can always be counted on to care. “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.” “He that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out.” “I will guide thee to the end.” The caring—materially, physically, spiritually, emotionally—that the Heavenly Father gives is in keeping with his being the “Everlasting Father.” Earthly fathers are finite and limited, but the “caring” is to last as long as the father lives. A parent-child relationship is to keep increasing in depth, understanding, and true communication.

God as our Heavenly Father not only has promised to supply all our needs according to his riches in glory, but also has told us that he wants us to ask specifically for special things, to make our requests known to him. The pattern of the perfect father includes an open ear to requests and a delight in responding to specific desires made known to him. Of course, the answer is sometimes “no” or “wait,” but there must be many times of showing love and understanding by providing what was asked for.

The word “father” should bring a tremor of excitement in the assurance that this one is making hidden preparations for the future. Jesus said he was going to prepare a place for his own. In Hebrews 11:6 we are told that God is not ashamed to be called our God, because he has prepared for us a city. Our Heavenly Father is in the midst of preparing fantastic surprises for his children while they are suffering difficulties now. An earthly father, in requiring difficult things of his children in certain moments, should be at the same time planning and preparing the wonderful summer vacation together, the special trip alone with one child in special need, the camping trip to the mountains or seaside. The word “father” should bring thoughts of one who is full of marvelous plans for the joy of his children—little joys day by day, as well as longer periods ahead of special fulfillment.

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The pattern of what a father should be includes availability. God is infinite as well as personal, and so we have a completely available father at all times. Fatherliness in a human being must include availability to the best of the man’s limited possibility.

Our heavenly Father is strong, and he says he will share his strength: “My strength is made perfect in weakness.” An earthly father cannot share strength in this unique way, but he is meant to remember to try to share his strength for the child’s good in the child’s weakness, and not to use his strength to bully the weaker one.

All this cannot be carried out perfectly by an imperfect man, but this, and more, is the pattern to be followed. There must be a recognizable likeness to this pattern in a father if a child is to develop an understanding of what “God is our Father” means. Whether or not you ever had such a father, determine by God’s strength to be one. Throw away the spoiled pattern, and look to the Perfect Pattern.

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