Why Do Christians Call God ‘Father’?

God calls himself our “Father.” That makes some of us smile. But not all of us.

I’m acutely aware that when you think of the word father, you may not be thinking of going out in the backyard and playing catch. You’re also probably not thinking of someone who took you out for root beer floats on a warm summer evening.

“Absent” might be what comes to mind when you hear the word, “father.” Or maybe even the word “abusive.” When you hear God describe himself as your father, you may think, “Well, that’s the last thing I need.”

We need to understand what kind of father God is. But first, we desperately need to redefine what kind of father God is.

God Is a Loving, Not Controlling Father

Many think of God as an angry slave driver who cannot be pleased. You may have that view of God, perhaps because you had an earthly father for whom you could never be good enough. If that’s how you see God, it’s hard to respond to him in the right way. You’ll be intimidated by his standards, keep trying harder to meet them, and feel like a failure when you don’t. You may eventually give up or just rebel against him.

I love what Paul says, “You did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear” (Romans 8:15). God is not someone to be afraid of. We need to understand, “God is love” (1 John 4:8) and “perfect love drives out fear.” What this means is that God is love, and that leaves no space for fear.

Why So Many Rules?

You may ask, “Well, if God is loving, not controlling, why does he give us so many rules?” Because he’s our father.

When I was a kid, my least favorite rules were keeping my elbows off the table and having to eat all the food on my plate. But what bothered me most was the reason my parents gave me for their rules. I would ask, “Why?” and they would say, “Because, I said so.” (Maybe you had the same parents.)

Sometimes we wonder if God puts all the rules into the Bible because he’s some kind of power trip. He doesn’t seem to have good reasons for his expectations, it’s just, “because I said so.” The truth is, God gives us rules because he is a loving father looking out for his kids.

My kids have to trust that I know what’s best for them. If I put them in charge, we would have candy and ice cream three times a day. They’d wear shorts outside in the snow and stay up all night. They may think my rules are unfair, but I don’t give them rules because it is fun to do. (Well, it is fun to tell them what to do.) I give them rules because I love them.

It’s the same with God. “God is good to everyone, and his compassion, his love, is intertwined in everything he does” (Psalm 145:9). God is a perfect father who loves you with a perfect love.

God Is a Close, Not Distant Father

Perhaps your dad was absent, either physically or emotionally. It may lead you to think of God as distant. You wonder if he’s even there or if he notices you. Does he even listen when you pray?

If your dad was distant, you need to know that’s not God. In fact, the message of the Bible is the story of God closing the gap between himself and humanity.

In the Old Testament, people kept distancing themselves from God because of their sin, but God continuously pursued them. In the New Testament, God shows up in Jesus. God with us. And, even though Jesus leaves, God comes even closer to us through the Holy Spirit. God is in us.

The Perfect Daddy

Romans 8:15 begins with the assurance that we are not slaves and don’t need to fear,” And by him, we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”

Abba is an intimate term of endearment. It’s the Aramaic word for “Daddy” or “Papa.” It’s the least formal word for a father; the word a small child uses when he climbs onto his dad’s lap or jumps into his arms.

That’s the way God wants you to relate to him. Jesus came to bring us into a relationship with God, and to show us how to be in a relationship with God. So, how do we relate to God? Jesus called God, “Abba.”

God is not an authoritarian figure. He is a perfect daddy, and we are his sons and daughters. When you live in that kind of relationship with him, you find yourself loving God more and more. You find yourself wanting to talk to him.

God’s Refrigerator Door

You may not have had the earthly father you wanted, but you do have the heavenly father you need. I love what Max Lucado writes about God’s feelings for us:

“If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If God had a wallet, your photograph would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring. He gives you the sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, he’s willing to listen. He could live anyplace in the entire universe, but he chooses to reside in your heart. Face it, friend. He is crazy about you.”

You’ve got a perfect father who loves you with a perfect love.
He’s loving, not controlling.
He’s close, not distant.
He’s crazy about you.


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