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What does ‘father’ bring to mind?

By: Jovan Ilijev, Foresthill Seventh-day Adventist Church
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It is said that, in almost every language, one of the first words a baby learns is the word DaDa, Papa, or Baba. Someone has humorously pointed out that babies first call you “DaDa.” Then they call you “Daddy.” As children mature, they call you “Dad.” Finally, they call you “Collect.” On a more serious note, let me ask you: What comes to mind when you think of the word father? For some it is an image of the loving, caring, and thoughtful person who was always there for you. For others it is an image of a controlling father whose watchful eye studied your every move. Some visualize a perfectionist father, who never admitted to being wrong and demanded faultless performance from you. Still others recall the image of an absent father, who either left you at an early age, or who worked so hard to provide for the family that you hardly got to know him. There is a strong link between the way we view our earthly fathers and the way we see our Heavenly Father. Psychologist Paul Vitz studied the lives of some of the world’s leading influential thinkers, as well as several notorious dictators, including Hitler and Stalin. He discovered that all of these shared one thing in common — they had “defective fathers.” Each had been either severely punished or beaten, physically or sexually abused, or abandoned by their fathers. A common thread among them was the extreme revulsion and hatred they had toward their fathers. Interestingly, every one of these individuals ended up rejecting God. However, a study of some of the leading Christian intellectuals over the same time period found few “defective fathers.” That led Vitz to conclude that disappointment in one’s earthly father, whether through death, absence, or mistreatment, frequently leads to a rejection of God.1 Projecting negative father images onto God can cause some to find it difficult to experience the love of God. That is why the key element in all of Jesus’ teaching was to give us a correct view of our Heavenly Father. The first-century Jews viewed God as a distant and remote creator who rewarded the good and punished the evil. They believed that sickness and poverty represented God’s expression of his anger toward sinners. Jesus changed this attitude with just one word for father: Abba. Jesus’ use of the word Abba can be interpreted to mean a God who is accessible, cuddly, gentle, and warm — more like “Daddy” or “Papa.” He taught us that when we pray, we pray to a Father who is immediate, involved, connected, and infinitely loving with his children. This Father’s Day, I invite you to read the story of a loving father Jesus described in Luke 15:11-32. Whether you identify with the older or younger son in the story, study the father to get a glimpse of your Heavenly Father. You’ll realize that your Father doesn’t play favorites. He doesn’t use your past against you. Rather, His love is big enough to embrace you in spite of who you are. May God richly bless you. Jovan Ilijev is pastor of the Foresthill Seventh-day Adventist Church.