How My Father Invented the Heavenly Father: The Dangerous (and Potentially Beautiful) Power Fathers Have Over Their Children


Image by Garry Cook

Humans are creatures in relationship. Familiar images abound: the caressing mother caring for her young child, the strong father instructing his children on how to live rightly, the loving wife supporting her husband, the faithful and sacrificial husband, a brother, sister, son, daughter. On and on, hundreds of relationships exist in the human condition. In fact, our society is built around these relationships. They are the native language of our hearts and minds to which all naturally relate.

It is through these relationships that God has chosen to reveal himself. He is the loving husband, the devoted friend, and providing mother. Our human relationships are important to our creator since they were meant to reflect his triune community.

“Let us make man in our image, both male and female”

When human relationships fail, as they inevitably do, the image of our creator—like a once beautiful mirror—is shattered.

One of the primary images God uses to reflect his relationship with us is that of Father—one which has so easily been broken over the generations. It is no wonder that God calls himself Father and we his children. The image is palpable. He creates, corrects, protects, and provides for us. He is the perfect loving father—more so than our own parental figures.

The relationship of father and child was only meant to be a shadow of the relationship we have with our “Heavenly Father.” What earthly man could ever live-up to the standard of the Kingdom of Heaven? Nevertheless, even though a man may be a less perfect image, it is still an image God wanted to foster.

However, our fathers (and inevitably their sons) have and will most certainly distort the image of our Heavenly Father. They create a false image of God, making unintentional statements about our creator.

I make no illusion nor soften the image of fathers today. Some fathers have raised their children with an indifferent spirit, largely ignoring their children while chasing better career, higher pay, and better toys. Others have abandoned their children and their “baby’s mama.” Fathers have been abusive, violent, angry, overly critical, and have fostered a sense of having to earn their father’s love and approval.

More than just the glib statement “families are broken”, true pain and brokenness fill the hearts of children today—perhaps more so than in previous generations.

When these young people hear that God is their Father in heaven who loves them, the image of their own earthly father clouds the creator. Earthly fathers create and invent the image of their heavenly father, one which must be dismantled before they can truly feel loved, accepted, and embraced by him.

Our true Father has no higher interest than his children. There is no pleasure or goal more important than you! He will never abandon you for something more interesting or pleasurable. He will never harm you, lash out in anger, or verbally abuse you. And perhaps the most important thing of all, you do not need to earn your father’s love or approval! He loves you and calls you “son” or “daughter”—and you in return call him daddy, father, papa. Like the innocent child that just wants to be near their dad, crawling into his lap, and putting their arms around his neck, so too is our relationship with our heavenly father. And there is nothing more than this that he desires.

*A message to fathers from a father raised by a father—be careful. We are pastors. We are shepherds. We are protectors. Everyday we reflect, paint, and create an image of our heavenly father that shapes our sons and daughters. Every failure will have to be dealt with and deconstructed. Every success will be an anchor to which they will cling in the inevitable storms. May God glue the shards of glass together and make us better mirrors reflecting his character and person.


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  • Beautiful imagery.  God has blessed you with vision and imagery my friend.  Blessings.

  • Helen

    This is a lovely image of God, as Father, but also it’s not just abusive Dads that help.paint an unhealthy view of God, it’s abusive mums aswell.

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