I remember the first time I heard the concept. I was a young and very green pastor. I was on the phone with a Christian counselor after a member in my congregation tried to kill herself. His comment to me at first seemed irrelevant, “Unfortunately it makes sense. She had a terrible relationship with her dad.”
Thus began my understanding of one of the most important spiritual truths in our relationship with God.
Your image of God is initially set by the image you have of your earthly father. Your relationship with God will parallel your relationship with your dad until you rethink God.
Like it or not, we all have limited pictures of God because every earthly dad is fallible. And, if you had a tough situation with your earthly father, you’re going to have to work even harder to see God for who he really is and come to trust him.
I literally have thirty years of examples of this important principle, but I only have to go back a few days to find some.
I was talking to a nurse at a doctor’s office last week. She confessed years of anger, disappointment and mistrust of God. I asked her, “What was your dad like?” Her response, “Which one?” was all I needed to hear. She never met her biological dad and her step dad was a thug. Enter God-baggage.
Or the beautiful young seventeen-year-old who became a Christian at one of our Easter services. She said that she really struggled with belief in God. When I asked about her dad, she replied, “I really don’t see or talk to him.”
I could go on and on.
When you run into someone with an extreme anti-God sentiment, typically their dad story tends to be pretty dismal. In other words, 99.9% of the atheists and agnostics I’ve talked to or had friendships with over the years had terrible dad stories. The stronger their disbelief in God, the more difficult their dad story.
So if you’re reading this right now and you’ve never really been close to God, or you have trouble trusting or believing in him, or if you really think that belief in God is the worst thing that has ever happened to humanity, then I’d invite you to take a look at your own big picture. What type of spiritual legacy did you inherit? What was your dad like? What was his dad (your granddad on his side) like?
People are born with a predisposition toward belief, not away from it. Thus, when someone comes to the conclusion that God is not good or that he doesn’t exist, there’s usually some severe cultural conditioning in the mix. Even those who use science to make their case against God typically have difficult dad stories. In other words, while they may see science as supporting their belief that there is no God, it didn’t cause it.
Bottom line: I’ve learned that one of the most important questions I can ever ask a person is “Can you tell me about your dad?”
That’s why knowing Jesus is so important. He came to set the record straight about God.
Think about what Jesus taught and did. Think about how he elevated the status of women and showed love and mercy to sinners. Think about his passion for justice and his defense of the oppressed. Think about how he opposed religious pride and hypocrisy. And, think about how he died to give every person the chance to know God and be saved–even those who would reject him.
Consider this brief exchange between Jesus and his disciple, Phillip:
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)
Jesus portrayed everything we need to know about God. Our job is just to rethink God in light of who Jesus revealed him to be. Once we do that, we’re on our way to an intimate relationship with the God that Jesus died to give us.
By the way, I devote an entire chapter to this topic in my book A Man Who Told Us the Truth.