Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Experiencing God as Father

God the Father by Ambrogio Bevilacqua/The Met

TRYING TO DESCRIBE the Trinity is something of a loser’s game. After all, how can you explain the inexplainable? How can you put into words something that is beyond words?

Still, I’m grateful to those who have tried to give us something to work with as we attempt to wrap our heads and hearts around it—or, rather, them—all. Like the analogy of ice, water and steam—the same elements in different forms. Or the math of 1 x 1 x 1 = 1 and 1 ÷ 1 ÷ 1 = 1. Each effort falls short of adequacy, but they help communicate something of the sense of both order and mystery that is at the heart of the Persons of God.

Certainly, we experience God in different ways through His different natures. For instance, there is the “joy of the Lord,” centered in the person of Jesus. Then there is the comfort we sense through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

With Father’s Day looming, I think too of the ways in which we can especially or particularly—if not entirely uniquely—experience God as Father. Three immediately come to mind:

His delight. Recall how at Jesus’s baptism, when He came up out of the Jordan, a voice from heaven declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). Jesus had not yet done anything in terms of public ministry, preaching and healing, but the Father loved Him completely just as He was.

In the same way, we can do nothing to earn or deserve the Father’s love. That should give us a great sense of security. But it is also true, as the old saying goes, that while God loves us just as we are, He also loves us too much to leave us just as we are, which leads to the second point.

His discipline. This seems counterintuitive, but actually God’s correction is a sign of His care. As Hebrews 12:6 says, “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

One reason many of us find this hard is because we confuse discipline and punishment, which are not solely interchangeable. There is a time and a place for punishment, but it is past-oriented: the consequence for wrongdoing. Discipline is much more about being forward-looking, shaping us for a preferred future.

His direction. Many Christians struggle with guidance, anxious to know what God wants them to do, but don’t realize that the Father is perhaps most interested in showing us. After all, the whole rescue plan of which we are objects and in which we become participants springs from His heart: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son” (John 3:16).

We see that reality played out in Jesus’s life. When He stayed behind in Jerusalem as a young boy, He told Mary and Joseph when they eventually found Him in the Temple that He was “about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49 NKJV). Later, in His ministry years, He would tell His disciples that “the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise” (John 5:19).

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