The term "Father" for God is very commonly used in the church. "Our Father" is the beginning of the Lord's prayer, and pastors commonly address God as "Father" in church prayers. Yet I've never really clicked with understanding God as my Father. Throughout my Christian life, I have always found it easier to relate to Jesus. I often pray to "Jesus", and occasionally to the "Holy Spirit" when I am praying for something that I know the Holy Spirit does (such as draw someone to faith or transform someone's heart). But I have never prayed to God as "Father". Recently I started to wonder why that is. If I want to be truly Trinitarian in my view of God, I should start recognizing the role that God as Father has in my life. I also realized that seeing God as my Father can help me love and trust him in deeper ways. In this article I hope to explore some ways that it can help to think of God as our Father.
God is Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit
The Trinity is one of the most mysterious aspects of God. How can one God be three persons at once? Each person is equally God, yet is distinct from the others. Yet it is shown in the Bible to be true. At creation, we see the Father creating through his Word (which is the Son, the second person of the Trinity, who becomes incarnate as Jesus - see John 1:1-14), and the Holy Spirit hovers over the water of the unformed earth. At Jesus' baptism (Luke 3:21-22), we see the Trinity revealed clearly: Jesus is incarnate as a human, God the Father speaks from heaven affirming Jesus, and the Holy Spirit appears in the form of a dove which lands on Jesus. All three persons of God are present here at once - therefore it cannot be the case that God simply acts in three different ways. Yet all three persons of God act together, and are united in purpose and share the same central God-like attributes (goodness, love, kindness, omnipotence, omniscience, etc.). Jesus says that he only does what God the Father does (John 5:19), and that Jesus is the perfect reflection of God - if we have seen Jesus we have seen God (John 14:9). The Holy Spirit is equally God (John 14:26, 16:24). In his book "Jesus Continued", J.D. Greear says that John 14:18, when Jesus says "I will not leave you as orphans - I will come to you", it is a reference to the Holy Spirit [1, p.20]. So when we hear from the Holy Spirit, we are also hearing from Jesus.
So it is Biblical to pray to each and all members of the Trinity. Praying to one member of the Trinity is just as good as praying to all three, because all are God, and whenever one acts or speaks it is the same as if all are acting or speaking. But sometimes it helps to distinguish their different roles and how we relate to them. For example, it is easy for me to think of Jesus as my king, my saviour, even as a brother (Hebrews 2:11-12, Matt. 12:50) or friend (John 15:15). But he is not my Father. And it is the Holy Spirit who indwells Christians and is our ever-present comforter and companion. But he is not Jesus, as Jesus physically ascended to Heaven (Acts 1:6-11) and is currently interceding for us at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 8:1-7), until he will physically return to establish his millennial kingdom on earth at the end of the Tribulation. So as a short-hand form, when we say "God", Christians are referring to all three members of the Trinity. Yet it can be helpful to keep in mind the differences among the members of the Trinity. This is one area where I am still learning, and I desire to improve my thinking to become more Trinitarian. As I already said, for me, it is my understanding of God as the Father which has to improve.
God Adopts Us Into His Family
Jesus frequently referred to God as his Father. Yet Jesus also says God is our Father. John 20:17 says "Jesus told her, 'Don't hold on to me! I have not yet gone to the Father. But tell my disciples that I am going to the one who is my Father and my God, as well as your Father and your God."(CEV). Throughout the book of Matthew, Jesus refers to God as believers' Father and instructs us to pray to the Father. So how do we become God's children, so that God is our Father?
Jesus was God's only "begotten" Son (John 3:16, KJV). But God adopts people into his family when they believe in Jesus' death for their sins. Then we are given the Holy Spirit as our guarantee, or "seal" that we are indeed adopted and will never be disowned:
- "If we believe that Jesus is truly Christ, we are God's children." (1 John 5:1, CEV)
- "Only those people who are led by God's Spirit are his children. God's Spirit doesn't make us slaves who are afraid of him. Instead, we become his children and call him our Father. God's Spirit makes us sure that we are his children. His Spirit lets us know that together with Christ we will be given what God has promised." (Romans 8:14-17, CEV)
- "We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him. They are the ones God has chosen for his purpose, and he has always known who his chosen ones would be. He had decided to let them become like his own Son, so that his Son would be the first of many children."(Romans 8:2-29)
- "But when the time was right, God sent his Son, and a woman gave birth to him. His Son obeyed the Law, so he could set us free from the Law, and we could become God's children. Now that we are his children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. And his Spirit tells us that God is our Father. You are no longer slaves. You are God's children, and you will be given what he has promised."(Galatians 4:4-7, CEV)
- Jesus says "Everyone who wins the victory will sit with me on my throne, just as I won the victory and sat with my Father on his throne." (Rev. 3:21, CEV)
So we are not just God's servants or slaves, we are actually God's very own precious children! Christians can think of ourselves as sons and daughters of God, who is the great King of the whole universe. We are royalty, with Christ as our brother and God as our Father. And once we're adopted we are never thrown out, we are part of the family of God forever, and we get to enjoy all the blessings that come with it.
God Is Our Ultimate Father
I am very fortunate that I was raised in a loving Christian home by my parents who are still married. My dad is still alive and we are still close. Yet as he ages, I am coming to the realization that he won't be around forever. Some day he will die and I will no longer be able to rely on his care and love for me. Also, as I have grown older and moved on in life, he no longer has as significant of a role to play in my day-to-day affairs. As I grew up, I became more responsible for myself, and my dad had less responsibility for me. My dad also was not perfect, and even though he never abused us, he was absent at work fairly often and may not have given me and my siblings as much affection as he could have. All of our earthly human fathers are imperfect and most likely have let us down at some time by being absent, unloving, or even abusive.
But God is not like this. God will never die, and he will never leave me or abandon me. God is perfectly loving, because he is love (1 John 4:8). God will always be there and be just as active in our lives as he was the day we first believed. No matter how old I get, God will always be my Father, and I can relate to him as my ultimate, perfect Father.
God the Father Provides For Us
Ideally, a family will be provided for financially and materially by the parents, usually by the father. God also provides for us as our Father:
- "When you pray, don't talk on and on as people do who don't know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don't be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask." (Matthew 6:7-9, CEV)
- "Don't worry and ask yourselves, 'Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?' Only people who don't know God are always worrying about such things. Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God's work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. (Matthew 6:31-33, CEV)
- "Look at the birds in the sky! They don't plant or harvest. They don't even store grain in barns. Yet your Father in heaven takes care of them. Aren't you worth more than birds?" (Matthew 6:26, CEV).
- "Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!" (Matthew 7:9-11)
So God will provide for all our needs, because he knows what we need even before we pray to him about it. But we should still pray, just like how obedient, humble children should politely ask their parents for what they need and say thank you after receiving it. But these verses above are very encouraging, because they show that God cares about us, and he wants to provide good things for us. It makes parents happy to bless their kids with good clothes, tasty and nutritious food, and a few fun toys, and so God also is happy to provide for us and bless us with things that are good for us.
I don't have to worry that I will ask God for something I need or would like and fear that he is going to give me something awful instead (Matthew 7:9-11). I don't have to fear that I might pray for God to keep me healthy and have God turn around and give me cancer instead, because that's not the sort of thing that a loving Father would do. Some varieties of Christians like to believe that everything that happens to them is planned by God for some greater good purpose, but I don't think this is true. Yes, God can bring some sort of good out of any evil that might afflict us, but it doesn't mean God planned it or intended it to happen. If that were true then we could never trust God and could not love him as a Father. So I can trust that God wants the best for me, because he is my loving Father. He will not spoil me, as that would simply indulge my sinful, greedy, and materialistic lusts, but I can trust that he will try his hardest to help me with the basics that I need to get by.
Unfortunately in this fallen and sinful world, not everyone experiences material blessings. This is not a sign of God's displeasure with us, but is a result of human sin. Adam and Eve's first sin brought God's curse on nature (Genesis 3:17-19) which makes it hard to survive in this world. All humans have inherited this same tendency to sin, and human sin only makes life worse for others. Now we have to struggle not only with ground that doesn't produce as much food, but also with corrupt government officials who hoard wealth and oppress their people, with wars that destroy homes and waste resources, and people who hurt one another. None of this is God's will, and he is sad and angry at all of this, especially when it impacts negatively on innocent people, especially children. Some Christians have at some points in history died from starvation or other misfortunes. So how can we say God provides us everything we need? It is hard to understand why one person is blessed with so much while another is starving, especially if both are Christians. Christians who have much should be generous and share with Christians who have little. But even then I suspect we will not be able to fix the evil and sinful structural wealth distribution problems of this world until Jesus returns. In the meantime, we have the consolation that if any Christian dies due to the unfair world systems that have denied them food, shelter, or other life's necessities, they will never lack for anything again in heaven. Those who were responsible for this injustice will finally be punished by God at the Great White Throne judgment (Rev. 20:11-13).
God Disciplines Us
No parent would be a good parent if they didn't sometimes discipline their children. God also says that he will discipline us. "God corrects all of his children, and if he doesn't correct you, then you don't really belong to him." (Hebrews 12:8, CEV). But since God is the perfect parent, he will never over-discipline, and his discipline is meant only to help us grow in spiritual maturity and become more like Christ. God cares about us becoming mature, complete people who reflect our own version of Jesus Christ to the world. So if you are really a Christian, you won't be able to keep sinning without consequences catching up with you, and you won't be able to enjoy sinning. The Holy Spirit will prod your conscience so that you will know what you are doing is wrong and will make you feel guilty, and God may allow you to face the negative consequences of your sin. But this is in order to show you how bad it is, and to get you to give it up so that you can be happier in the long-run.
I've experienced this myself. I had gotten involved in an activity which I should not have, and although I tried to continue, I was miserable and never felt at peace. After a year I realized I would either have to give up the activity or else give up on God, and so the only real option was to be humble, pray for forgiveness, and stop the sinful activity. But now that I look back on it, I am so happy I did. I have so much more peace and happiness now, and I realize now that this activity really wasn't good for me. God does discipline us, but it is only for our own benefit, and it is always done in love, never out of spite or anger or hate.
God Rewards Us
Some people think that looking for reward from God for good deeds is selfish. However, why would God tell us about the rewards he plans to give to us if he didn't want us to try to earn them? I think it is because God knows that because we are sinful humans, we need the incentive of rewards. It is also a fair way to compensate those who did more good than others. So we can look forward to all the rewards that God will give us in heaven. God tells us to do things that will earn treasures that will last forever in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
For example, God promises to reward us when we give money to help the poor secretly (Matthew 6:1-4), when we pray to God privately and not for public acclaim (Matthew 6:5-6), and when we fast without showing off (Matthew 6:16-17). If we provide even something as minor as a cup of water to someone in need, we will be rewarded (Mark 9:41, Matthew 10:42), and Jesus says that doing things like visiting the sick and those in prison, welcoming strangers in need of hospitality, and providing clothes for those who have none will be rewarded as if we had done them for Jesus himself (Matthew 25:34-46). We will be rewarded when people persecute us for being Christians (Luke 6:22-24, Matthew 5:11-13). Even simply doing our best at our jobs will be rewarded as if we were working for Jesus himself (Colossians 3:23-25). In 1 Cor. 3:10-15, we see a picture of the "Bema Seat" judgement of Christ, which is where Christians will have all their good works measured by God and rewarded accordingly.
The Bible doesn't specify what these rewards might be. Jesus says he is creating dwelling places for us in heaven (John 14:2), which will be in the New Jerusalem which is described as being made of gold and precious jewels (Revelation 21), and so our rewards may be reflected in our dwelling place. These rewards may also be reflected in the clothes or crowns we might wear in heaven, or the positions that we will be given as kings and priests (Revelation 1:6, 5:10). Heaven is going to be better than anything that we can imagine, so it is not wrong to imagine that our heavenly rewards are going to be amazing! God will lavish on us anything that we need for our eternal happiness, as he is not limited by resources or scarcity (Psalm 50:10-12), and if we are heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), then why would we expect anything less? We will not have the sinful nature in heaven, and so will not worship these amazing blessings, we will not be greedy, we will not envy other's rewards, and will not be unsatisfied with what we have. We will be free to enjoy them and give thanks to God for them. Enjoying a reward from God is not sinful, and the things we are given as rewards will only remind us of God and cause us to thank and praise God.
In this article we have seen that God is our heavenly Father. As Christians, we are part of God's family, and we are his sons and daughters. God loves us even better than the best human father loves his children. We can trust that he always loves us tenderly. God will provide for our needs in this life, and will reward us in heaven for all the good things we do. God also disciplines us when necessary, not out of wrath but out of love, since he knows what is best for us and wants us to become more like who we are meant to be. We can come running to God in prayer the same way a little child runs to their human father when we are hurt or when we need something, fully trusting that God will give us only what is good for us and will never give us bad things. This understanding of God as our father can help us love him more, trust him more deeply, and help us look forward to being with God forever in heaven.