When I was young, my dad was the strongest person I knew. After he got home from work, he would pick me up and throw me in the air before catching me and wrapping me in a hug. We would go to the soccer field to practice, and when he would punt the ball, it went so high it seemed to nearly touch the clouds. A college wrestler, my dad loved “teaching” me and my siblings wrestling moves by using them on us—and even when I was in high school, I was never strong enough to break free. I was in awe of my father.
When we think about God, perhaps we think most frequently about strength and power. We think of a king, creator, lawgiver or judge. All of those titles point to aspects of God, but when Jesus taught and prayed, he referred to God most frequently as “Father.” When his disciples asked him to teach them to pray, the prayer he taught them began, “Our Father.” This wasn’t a statement about God’s gender—God is neither male nor female—but a statement that God’s relationship to us is like that of a caring parent—a loving Father—to a child. When we describe God as Father, we recognize God’s relationship to us not as one who is indifferent or waiting for us to mess up but as a Father whose love for us has no bounds.
Jesus describes the Father’s love for us vividly in the parable we know as the prodigal son. In the parable, a father’s younger son takes his inheritance and abandons his family to seek pleasure in a faraway land. His father must have been devastated. His son had effectively disowned him, taken his money and left.
When the son ran out of money, he returned home to plead with his father to take him back. The father didn’t curse the son and slam the door in his face; he didn’t force him to sleep in the stables, and he didn’t lecture the son on his irresponsibility. Instead, when he saw his son coming from a long way off, he took off running and wrapped his arms around his son. Despite the pain his son had caused him, the father didn’t disown his son or chastise him; he threw out propriety and dignity, and he embraced his son with reckless abandon.
When Christians pray to “our Father,” we are praying to the one whose love for us is as boundless as a father’s for his children—and even more so. Father’s Day is an opportunity to give thanks for the father-figures in our lives who have showed us the love of God the Father, whether they are biological, step-fathers, foster fathers or men who were like fathers. And for those who have lost their father or whose father wasn’t a loving presence, it’s a reminder that we have a Father in heaven whose love for us is as reckless and abundant as the father in the parable.
When I was about 3-years-old, my father and I were at the Amtrak station in Independence, Missouri waiting to ride the train for the first time. I was thrilled—I loved trains, but I had never seen one up close. When I felt the rumble of the massive Amtrak engine and heard the ear-splitting train whistle, I was terrified. I began backing away, and I bumped into my dad, who bent down and wrapped me in his strong arms. And when he did, I knew I would be OK, because he was the strongest person I knew. But even more importantly, he was my dad and loved me more than I could imagine—a love that taught me about the love of God the Father.