Is your relationship with your dad affecting how you see God?
Soon after Sharie and I met and fell in love, we began to realize we both loved God with all our hearts, but we had very different ways of seeing God and relating to Him as our heavenly Father.
We had different beliefs about how God felt about us and what He expected from us, largely because of our relationships with our earthly fathers.
God as a Good Father
My dad was not a perfect man by any stretch or standard. He was impatient, sometimes demanding, and occasionally prone to emotional outbursts. But overall, my dad was a great man.
He was my hero and my best friend. He was the single greatest influence on my life. He was my Sunday school teacher when I was a kid. He discipled me as a new Christian. He was faithful to my mom, provided for our family, cared for the poor, and practiced generosity with those in our community and our family.
My dad was also an encourager. He used his words as weapons against discouragement and negativity. He bragged on his employees, complimented people in their work, and noticed small things and spoke up about them.
I had a good earthly father who loved me, so I thought of God as good and I knew He loved me.
Once, I heard my dad tell a customer at his shop that the reason their business was doing so well was because of one employee who had a great work ethic. He said it in front of that employee, knowing he was facing a tough situation at home and understanding his words would lift the man up and give him something to hold on to.
My dad did this for me, too. He was generous with his verbal affection and affirmation. I can still hear him cheering for me from the stands at my high school football games. He was constantly telling me how proud he was of me — when I made a good grade or a good tackle, or when I did a good job cutting the grass. Even when I messed up, he was still patting me on the back to tell me he loved me.
My concept of a daddy was a man who was kind, loving, firm, and faithful. I translated this into my concept of my heavenly Father. I had a good earthly father who loved me, so I thought of God as good and I knew He loved me.
God as a Distant Diety
Sharie’s concept of a father was different than mine. She had only experienced pain and hurt from the men in her life. She never had real, meaningful conversations with her stepfathers. They never seemed interested in her as a little girl. She remembers feeling ignored, as if she didn’t exist, because they seemed so distant and detached. She grew up thinking something was wrong with her. In her young mind, she assumed she was the problem. She never knew a father’s unconditional love.
Now imagine how that carried over to her concept of God. Even after Sharie trusted Christ and became a Christian, it took years for her to deprogram from what she’d experienced and to reprogram a true view of God as a loving, trustworthy Father who would not use her or manipulate her or ignore her. She struggled to accept God as loving, kind, merciful, and trustworthy. Her broken paternal relationships led to a broken and incomplete understanding of her heavenly Father. That’s not an easy thing to overcome.
I remember the first time I bought Sharie a gift when we were dating. I was so excited, and I waited until we were eating lunch one day at a Mexican restaurant to surprise her with it. But when I handed her the gift, the look on her face was not one of joy. Instead, she looked tormented, like she was in physical pain.
She seemed almost angry! When I asked her what was wrong, her response floored me.
“Why would you give me something like this?” she asked me. “What do you want from me?”
I was dumbfounded. I stared at her for a second, my mouth gaping in disbelief.
“What do you mean? I don’t want anything from you,” I told her when I could finally find my voice. “I love you and I want to give you something nice just because you’re special to me. No expectations. No strings attached.”
No kidding, right there in El Acapulco, Sharie broke down crying. These were not tears of joy. They were tears of confusion, of emotional torment, of a girl trying so hard to believe something good but only feeling something bad. That moment gave me a glimpse into the heart of the woman I was going to marry and spend my life with. She’d felt hurt, dismissed, and ignored by people who should have loved and protected her.
Finally, Sharie composed herself enough to speak.
“I’m sorry, I just have a hard time receiving anything good from anyone, because all my life, if anyone gave me anything, I always knew it was a trick to try and get something from me. Be patient with me, and I will do my best to believe that you really love me and are not mad at me or using me somehow.”
That was a turning point in our relationship. The light came on for her, even if faintly, and she saw a glimmer of hope that not all men were absent or demanding or closed off. What had been broken in her young, tender heart — her inability to see God as loving and faithful — was about to be mended and made whole. Now, 20 years later, things are completely different. She knows I love her. She has seen a father who loves his kids (and hers) unconditionally. And she sees God as He really is, not through the lens of her earthly fathers.
Which Lens Are You Using?
Sharie teaches, speaks, and writes books on this very issue. In retrospect, the way she explains what she went through is different than the way she experienced it. The way she processed it has given her perspective. And somehow God even used me in her life as an example of a good father. I learned from my own father, and he learned from God. God really is a good Father, but it takes time for some of us to see that as true.
God really is a good Father, but it takes time for some of us to see that as true.
So, again I ask you, how do you see God? What lens do you look through? When you think about him, does the image you have in your mind look like an angry, manipulative deity who’s out to get something only for himself? Or do you see a God who is for you, who is on your side, who wants good things for you and takes delight in providing them? Do you need to overcome an incorrect perception of who God is?
Have you been looking at God through the lens of a lie?