There is a label that I think we disassociate from, and disempower too quickly: God as Father.
This intimate name holds all manners of associations such as filial responsibility; headship; love; guidance; and, belonging. However, reflecting back on how we discuss God as Father the concept always seems to be framed in the present tense.
For example, the most common analogy that I have heard in sermons of God’s fatherly access is generally described in the following manner. Imagine a hypothetical of the President of the United Stated – important guy. He is so important and busy that to meet with him requires numerous security checks, secretary appointments, and the like. Just think of the West Wing to get an idea of how much one person can micro-manage their day. Consequently other important people like CEO’s or philanthropists must wait for a meeting and discuss issues in formal terms. Yet the daughter of POTUS can just run into the White House, sit on his lap, and talk to her dad.
Thus, if we apply the concept of Father to God, the analogy infers that we have the same no-holds-barred access to him and the opportunity for informal discussion with an abundantly powerful person. Now this is a cute picture, it does highlight how approachable God has made himself to us, but it doesn’t sit perfectly right with me. It seems like this analogy is heavily weighted towards showing the human perspective only. We see the depiction through the girls eyes.
Yet, with fatherhood, there is a history. Their relationship is deeper than that moment. It has last their entire lives and the Father does much more for his daughter than just listen to him and withhold rebukes for her bursting in on his office so. What this analogy misses out on, Hosea 11 thrives in. Here we see what the legacy of a filial relationship means, both to us and to God.
When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son… It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them in My arms, but they never knew that I healed them.
Herein is a touching description of God’s care for Israel in its infancy. These passages emanate an almost nostalgic tone: the literary equivalent to the movie scene where the parents sit down and lead through old polaroids of family photos whilst sipping coffee and listening to ‘Memories’. The next few memories that God reflects on show the intimacy between He and his son:
I led them with human cords, with ropes of love. To them I was like one who eases the yoke from their jaws; I bent down to give them food.
In my minds eye I get the picture of ‘toddler-Israel’. A chubby, ruddy nosed infant who is fully reliant on God, even for its food. If this were a movie, the scene would follow immediately after teen-Israel – all grown up, gangly and rebellious – slamming the door on God and promising not to come back, “My people are bent on turning from Me”. God is furious and hurt at first, but in his rage has come across the photos and begins to remember the relationship over the betrayal. It is in this moment that he realises:
How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I surrender you, Israel? How can I make you like Amdah? How can I treat you like Zeboiim? I have had a change of heart.
God’s fatherly love for us means more than momentary access, it also reflects the deep ongoing relationship that he has shared with us forever. Consequently, despite his hurt and pain at our rejection and rebellion, he still wants to fight for our relationship. He still desires nothing more than to restore our family bonds – irrespective of the cost to him.
It is sobering to realise that when I call God Father, I am calling on the very same bond that I so often spurn when I turn my own way. Yet, based on his values and qualities alone, God chooses to listen and still acknowledge our filial proximity.
Further, in a curious contrast to the parenting trap that so many of us fall into nowadays, God doesn’t intend to let me walk all over him to ‘keep the peace’. No his love is deeper than to merely acquiesce my wrong desires.
They will follow the Lord; He will roar like a lion. When he roars his children will come trembling from the west.
God still will be the boss. It is his call that leads his children. It is his power that they will respect. Further it is his provision that they will shelter in:
Then I will settle them in their homes. This is the Lord’s declaration.
It is pretty awe-inspiring stuff when you consider the emotional journey that is bundled into a label so simple as ‘Father’. Further it is all the more sobering when ‘Father’ is extended beyond the present tense and our eyes are opened to God’s ongoing care, guidance and protection. He is an impressively patient guy, which is a good thing. I am a pretty rebellious one and can do with all the patience I get.