On this Father’s Day, I would like for us to consider the fact that God has revealed himself to us as Father. That is how Jesus taught us to address God; the Aramaic term is abba. This is not “daddy,” as is often said; it is the only word for father in Aramaic. But that does indicate an intimate relationship that God wishes to have with his children—and that model, of God as our Father, then presents a great challenge for earthly fathers to live up to.
Beyond that, what this means for all of us, whether we are fathers or not, is that we should be shaped by our Heavenly Father. When my brother came and filled in for me last month, a number of you mentioned to me how much he reminded you of my dad: his looks, his mannerisms, and especially his voice. It’s not possible for him to deny his parentage. That is often the case: children reveal who their father is from their personality, from their characteristics, from their appearance.
Just as we all had earthly parents whose influence, for good or bad, we have felt in many ways, and just as you fathers and grandfathers influence your children and grandchildren, we are also all spiritual children of a Heavenly Father. Do we feel his influence in our family and on our lives in the same way?
If there is one thing the world needs to know more about and to put into practice, it is the love manifested to us and modeled by our Father. It’s so important that Jesus devoted a whole section of the Sermon on the Mount to it:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48)
We might think Jesus is being unrealistic here. But he never asks us to do anything we cannot do. Here, in essence, he says that, when people look at us, they should see the family resemblance with our Father; Jesus wants people to see our Father in us. To be perfect in context is not moral perfection, but to perfect our love, just as God’s love and care is perfect. That doesn’t mean flawless. The Greek word means “mature, fully equipped, complete.” In other words, our love, like God’s, is to be ready to meet the task.
Think about the magnificence of God’s love. It is incomparable. He lets his sun shine and his rain fall on everyone. They belong to him, and we could not exist in the world without them; he could distribute their benefits any way he sees fit. But he freely shares them with everyone. He doesn’t shower us with blessings based on our goodness or withhold them due to our imperfection. He is completely without partiality.
That is precisely where our love is mediocre by comparison. If we ran the world, based on the way we treat people most of the time, we would give lots of sunshine to those we really like or can benefit us in some way. We would make it dependent on good behavior for those we are ambivalent about. And we would deprive some people of it altogether.
Jesus’ words shock us with his expectations, so radically different from our normal behavior. When someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one as well. When someone forces you to go a mile with them, go two. You’re not going to love just your friends, love your enemies.
Christian love is demanding. As Jesus told a young lawyer who questioned him as to the greatest commandment, we must love God with every bit of our being and we must love our neighbor just like we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31). God demonstrates his love for us in countless ways, but preeminently in sending Jesus into the world on our behalf (John 3:16). If we want to be known as his children, we need to reflect that same love out into the world.
Do people see your Father when they look at you?