I lost my father to cancer when he was 47. I was in the living room with him, my mother, and my brothers when his respiratory system finally gave out after two hours of moaning. The hospice nurse even counted his last three breaths for us. That was the most bizarre “three-two-one” I’ll ever experience—a counting down that signaled the exit from the known world . . .
For many years after that, I wasn’t too excited about talking of God as a “Father.” That word was like a finger pointing to a void. I didn’t want reminders of an absence. And I was bitter toward people who tried to tell me that God was my true father and that he was still looking out for me, that he was always “with me.” I didn’t feel the presence of God, so I didn’t really know how to process that statement.
It wasn’t until I became a student of theology that my perspective shifted. I remember reading the following lines from Herman Bavinck and pausing:
The name of “Father” . . . is not a metaphor derived from the earth and attributed to God. Exactly the opposite is true: fatherhood on earth is but a distant and vague reflection of the fatherhood of God (Eph. 3:14 – 15). God is Father in the true and complete sense of the term.
Herman Bavinck, God and Creation (V. 2 of Reformed Dogmatics), p. 307
I’d been frustrated because my “real” father had died. But this little quote turned my thinking on its head. The message, I admit, wasn’t novel. I’d heard it from friends and family before. Perhaps I took it more seriously because it was coming from a dead theologian, who wasn’t necessarily trying to offer me consolation. I’m not sure. But for the first time, I began to believe that my true, real Father could never die. The earthly image of my eternal Father, of course, could and did die. But I wasn’t therefore fatherless. I just didn’t have the earthly image anymore. The eternal reality was now in plain sight. There was no image mediating the truth to me.
Your earthly father will pass, if he hasn’t already, whether it’s at 47 or 84 or 95. But your heavenly Father isn’t going anywhere. In fact, one day, you’ll go to him. And every precious moment of fatherhood you’ve experienced will pale in comparison to the love and warmth that will consume you in the presence of your ever-lasting “Abba,” your forever Father.
We may think that this is more like a fairy-tale, a good thought without any legs to run in the real world. But the reason for that is our persistent insistence that the physical world is somehow more “real” than the spiritual world, that earthly manifestations are what really matters, not heavenly dreams.
God is not a dream, my friends. He made the things that paint our dreams. Until we think of him as primary, and as everything else that we see around us as secondary, we’ll probably never believe the wonderful truth that God is our original, eternal, true, real Father.