“Can I eat that?” and “Is she single?” might be the oldest questions in history. But following quickly on their heels are questions about God:
Can I know him?
What’s He like?
Is He good?
Why does he hate the Cleveland Browns so much?
The Bible uses two consistent images for God—a father and a king.
- As a father, God is loving and caring. He knows his children intimately, is patient with them, and works everything for their good.
- As a king, God is holy and powerful. He creates the cosmos, punishes wrongdoing, and holds his people to high standards.
So which is it? Both.
A complete understanding of God requires both father and king. But almost everyone struggles with one of those identities. If God is only a king, he will feel like a hard taskmaster. If God is only a father, he will feel too accommodating and soft.
Perhaps it was my conservative Bible-belt childhood or my obsession with British culture, but I find it much easier to identify with God as king. He has rules. I follow them. He is all-powerful. I try not to piss him off. He is working a plan. I’m lucky to be a small part of it.
But lest you get the wrong impression, let me be clear. Even though I see God as king, He’s a good one. His rules are for my good, not for my oppression. His leadership brings justice, not brokenness. His throne is a place of grace, not grit. He’s Aragorn in Lord of the Rings. He’s King T’Challa in Black Panther. He’s all the good lions rolled into one: Aslan, Mufasa, and King Richard from Disney’s animated Robin Hood.
God is an amazing king and my failure to see him as a good father at the same time has warped parts of my life. I tend to be duty-focused instead of relationship-focused. I work before I laugh. I have high (maybe the right word is “impossible”) standards for myself. Honestly, and this is embarrassing, joy is a hard emotion for me to feel. I look around the world and see pain, brokenness, and injustice. I know my good king doesn’t stand for that, so I feel an urge to keep pressing forward when what I really need is a beer and a nap.
With God as only your king, your life will be meaningful but joyless. From conversations with friends on the other side, with God as only your father, life tends to have more joy but less meaning. It’s not an either-or. It’s a both-and.
Me and God have got the monarch thing down. Lately, I’ve been intentionally working on seeing him as my Father. He has a soft spot for me. He’s pleased when I pull up a chair and sit awhile. He wants to know about my emotions just as much as my checklist.
The Bible says that one of the ways we can know God as a good father is through the gifts he gives us (Matthew 7:9-11). If, like me, you struggle with experiencing God as a good dad, focus on the good things He has (and is) giving you. Below are six of the most important for me. They are ways that I re-anchor myself to the fact that God isn’t just a king looking for obedience. He’s also a father looking for connection.
If it feels like God isn’t your dad, try one of these on for size. It probably won’t shift your worldview overnight, but consistently leaning-in to these gifts just might bring God’s fatherhood into clearer focus.
Leading off with the f-word? Strong move. But it’s true. God wants you to have fun.
James, the brother of Jesus, writes in his book that:
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.
Good and perfect gifts for me? Going hiking. Taking my wife to a flea market. Watching Scooby-Doo and Jonny Quest with my kids. Reading Harry Potter. Inviting Joe over for a beer around the fire. Seeing the Braves in the playoffs again. Going to concerts. Bourbon tours. A new season of Doctor Who. Escape rooms. Margaritas and nachos. The Office. Game nights.
Fun isn’t a sin. It’s a gift from a good dad, and one we should be enjoying. At least, that’s what the Bible says:
Everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
Go and have some fun. And then thank your good Father for providing it for you—whether it was trying a new restaurant or going on vacation.
Forgotten how to have fun? I’ve been there too. This might help.
Because I see God primarily as king, I find most of my interactions with him are action-oriented. When I pray, things like “What do you want me to do?” or “Give me wisdom for this situation” come out of my mouth.
A king has expectations for his subjects, while a father’s joy is in giving. As a dad, one of my favorite things is surprising my kids with gifts. Sometimes they’re big (we’re going on a trip!) and sometimes they’re small (a new library book!). But the joy it elicits is nearly the same—and it’s never diminished if my kids have specifically asked for it.
My son wants to be a vampire bat for Halloween. I just ordered him a mask on Etsy. He knows it’s coming. And when the package arrives, he’s still going to lose his mind. Will a vampire bat mask aid him after Trick or Treat? Probably not. Will it develop some kind of positive character trait in him? Of course not. Will it remain in one piece until the New Year? That’s almost certainly a no. But right now, he’s excited about animals. So we’re going for it.
Do my kids get everything that they want? Of course not. Enabling isn’t healthy. But I want my kids to ask me for things. And when it works out for me to give it to them, I love doing it. It brings me joy to see how it lights up their day.
Even for all my failings, I can give pretty-OK gifts to my kids. Jesus said something profound about my vampire-bat-mask-buying: If you, then, though you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?
God is a good father. Ask him for something—and I’m not talking about some virtue. Ask Him for your vampire bat mask. What would bring you joy? Do you need better friends? Ask Him. Do you need a raise? Ask Him. Do you want restored relationships with your parents? Ask Him. Do you just want to take a vacation and forget about COVID for a minute? Ask Him.
He doesn’t say “yes” to everything, but a good dad isn’t mad when he gets asked, even if the answer is no. But it is true, you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. I think Michael Scott said that.
If, as we said above, the king is about doing, then the father is about being. I’ll be the first to admit; I tend to be a performance junkie. I decide if a day is good or bad based upon how much work I get done, my creative output, and if anyone takes notice or not. That’s OK, to a point, but do-do-do will inevitably lead to burn out-burn out-burn out.
Luckily for me, my dad is watching out. God’s antidote is Sabbath—one day every week set aside for the important things, the stuff that gives life meaning but never shows up on your Gmail checklist. Sabbath is about worship. It’s about rest. It’s about family and friends. It’s about being filled up before you try to pour out. It’s for reading, not for writing. It’s for reflection, not teaching. It’s for naps and hammocks, not emails and board rooms.
It’s an amazing gift—but one most people I know don’t bother to unwrap. It feels impossible to put a hard stop in our busy lives. But what about the kids’ sports teams? What about the budget reports? What about the news cycle? What about the Twitter hot takes? What about the house projects? What about the to-do lists? On Sabbath, you make an intentional choice to put them to bed. One day a week, you stop measuring success by what you can get done—instead, your goal is peaceful breaths, positive interactions, and transcendent moments of quiet.
Sabbath is a gift because God is a good father (Ezekiel 20:12). But it’s also a command because God is a good king (Exodus 20:8-11).
If you’re on the edge of burnout, a holy snow day just might be the answer to reconnecting you to a God that loves you, not for what you can do for him, but because you are His.
Need help getting started? I did too. This article might help.
When one of my kids falls on the playground, they instinctively run to me. They get a hug. They get some attention. Sometimes, they get a package of ice. As my father, God wants me to do the same when I get hurt. I’ll be honest, it’s not my first instinct.
Our world blames more quickly than it laments—especially when it comes to God. Why didn’t He stop this from happening? How can He be good when I have this pain point in my life? How can I trust Him when I have this scar from the past?
All those questions are legit. They’re important. And they need to be explored. In my own life, I’ve found it much more beneficial to do that exploration beside God, instead of on my own.
Me and God have had some frank conversations—about suffering and childhood disease, about childhood sexual abuse and its ramifications on my adult life, on perfectionism and a church culture that was strangling me to death.
God isn’t scared of your feelings. He actually wants to know about them. I know this, because Jesus displayed some many emotions Himself. He wept when his friend died (John 11:35). He felt exhaustion from the pain and turmoil of others (Luke 5:15-16). He boiled over at people who used religion to bring oppression instead of freedom (Matthew 23). He grieved over the condition of the city and people he loved (Matthew 23:27-39). He felt compassion for the poor, the forgotten, and the ignored (Matthew 9:36). And He never turned away someone with a genuine question for Him.
Let’s be brutally honest—this is by far the most difficult gift on this list. It takes the longest, it’s the messiest, and is the most fear-inducing. But it’s also the place for the biggest breakthrough in your life. While you may fear the king doesn’t care about your hang-ups and hurts, your Father absolutely does—whether your dad on earth did or not.
If you need an example, I’m happy to share my experience. It’s not prescriptive by any means, but it just might be the nudge you need to get started.
One of the Father’s greatest gifts are siblings—and by that, I mean, other people besides yourself. You weren’t meant to do life on your own. So if you’re having a hard time connecting with God as father, take some time to hang out with someone you like; someone who brings the fun; someone who makes you laugh.
John, one of the earliest followers of Jesus, a guy who actually spent time with him, explains that it’s through each other that we see the love of God. He writes:
No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God remains in us, and His love is perfected in us.
Listen, I hate when people write about friendships too—like getting a friend is as easy as an Amazon Prime deal. Making friends is hard, especially as an adult. But the fact remains, when we’re around the right type of people, the love of the Father is easier to see, feel, and touch.
I recently moved to a new state, and I’m re-learning how to make friends. The best example I found? Your favorite workplace comedy.
Somebody once said, “Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.” I say “somebody,” because we don’t really know who said it. The internet (and your local brewery) wants to attribute it to Benjamin Franklin, although he was more openly a wine fan. Some attribute it to the beer-loving, church-reforming German monk Martin Luther. But, since it’s the internet, it might just be some smelly guy living in his mom’s basement.
No matter who said, beer is pretty awesome. But there’s an even better gift than that—sleep. A good nap in the middle of the day, or going to bed in warm sheets on a cold night, it’s fantastic. And it’s a gift from God. It says so, right smack in the middle of the Bible:
God grants sleep to those He loves.
If you can’t do anything else on this list, try this—go to bed early tonight. Don’t watch any TV. Don’t squeeze in extra chores. And for the love, don’t get on social media. Eat dinner. Read a little bit. And then go to bed as the sun goes down. I can almost guarantee you’ll wake up tomorrow feeling lighter, brighter, and more loved by your Father.
Our feelings aren’t reality. Just because God doesn’t feel like your father doesn’t mean He’s absent. In fact, I believe scripture teaches that if you take a step toward Him, He will meet you in the process (James 4:8).
So whether God feels more like Dumbledore or a drill sergeant, I dare you to do something from this list. Give yourself an opportunity to experience the Father’s love. It’s transformative. Encouraging. And as simple as F-A-T-H-E-R.