Meet My Father
I have come to know Him personally… and so can you.
By Clinton Wahlen
What image comes to mind when you think of God the Father? All-powerful and all-knowing, but distant and mostly busy running the universe? Or maybe your idea of the Father is somewhat vague, as mine was, until I realized just how frequently the Bible speaks about Him. How we view our heavenly Father is really important, because it also affects how we see Jesus and salvation, and how we read the rest of what the Bible has to say.
But most of us already have an idea of what “father” means, which may or may not be helpful in seeking to know our heavenly Father.
The mental image of my father has changed over the years. I don’t know what kind of father you had—stern and strong, weak and immature, kind and tender, or perhaps a blend of these. I have known people whose fathers seem to be everything a son or daughter could want. I have also known people whose fathers are nothing less than scary.
My eartly father did what seemed best to him (most of the time!), but my heavenly Father knows what's best for me (all the time!).
One thing I do know: No father is perfect. Mine is not, as he will freely admit. And I am far from being a perfect father for my children. But I know Someone who is perfect, because He has been there for me when no one else has.
Our ideal of what a father should be is distorted by our own experience, or limited by our imperfect understanding. That is why God speaks to us as a Father, to help us understand; and, more important, to be for us more than any human father could be.
What is our heavenly Father like? He is Someone who disciplines us because He loves us and knows better than our human fathers what it is that we really need.
There is one particular passage in the New Testament that I especially appreciate, because it contrasts human fathers with our heavenly Father. It says that human fathers discipline us “as seemed best to them, but He [our heavenly Father] for our profit” (Heb. 12:10). In other words, our fathers, as hard as they might try and as godly as they may be, can never really fulfill the role that God fills in our life.
My earthly father did what seemed best to him (most of the time!), but my heavenly Father knows what’s best for me (all the time!). Not only because He knows me better than I know myself, but also because He knows how everything will turn out, and, most important, He knows what I need so that I will turn out the way He intended. And He will fulfill the plan He has for my life. That’s why, when we approach God in prayer, we can do so with confidence, because our heavenly Father knows what we need before we ask him (Matt. 6:8).
God is small enough to really care about our little worries (and not just pretend, like I do with my children sometimes). Jesus said that the Father knows the number of hairs on our heads (Matt. 10:29-31). We can trust Him to care about everything that concerns us. At the same time, the Father is big enough to rule the universe and to have thought out the solution to the sin problem long before it ever arose (1 Peter 1:20; Rev. 13:8).
Like Jesus, Like Father
My heavenly Father is a rock of strength (Deut. 32:4; Ps. 46:1). “He is my strength when I am weak. He is the treasure that I seek. He is my all in all.”1 We sometimes prove unfaithful, but He is always faithful because He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13). He has adopted us into His family, giving us the Spirit as the seal of our connection to Him and of our belonging within His family. Likewise, the Spirit gives us courage to “come boldly” to His throne of grace and to cry out to Him in the most intimate (and respectful) way possible: “Abba, Father!” (2 Cor. 1:21, 22; Rom. 8:14, 15).
Because God is our Father, He is more deserving of honor than any earthly parent, and He calls us to love Him above even our closest family ties here (Deut. 33:9; cf. Mal. 2:10; 1:6; Matt. 10:37).
But the most amazing fact about our heavenly Father is that He is in character just exactly what Jesus is. As Jesus reminded Philip, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” He says the Father “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (John 14:9; Matt. 5:44, 45).
Sometimes our heavenly Father, in response to our pleas, settles for giving us only “the good.” But He is determined and constantly at work to give us His best (Matt. 7:11; see also Luke 11:13; Matt. 16:17; 18:19), though we often fail to see it. And the best gift of all is illustrated by the parable of Jesus that says more about the Father than any other: the parable of the prodigal son. This parable teaches us that as deluded, ungrateful, and prodigal as we may have been, the Father longs for us to return. At the first glimpse of our change of heart, He runs to us, embraces and kisses us, and lavishes us with tokens of His acceptance and undying love (see Luke 15:11-32).
The Father so loved the world that He gave His only Son. The Father is “merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,” forgiving but also One who “will by no means clear the guilty” (John 3:16; Ex. 34:6, 7). He forgives sin, but He cannot tolerate it forever. The day will come when, in what Scripture calls “His strange act” (Isa. 28:21, KJV), the Father will do what He has never done before. He will forever destroy that part of His creation that cannot be redeemed—more accurately, those who have refused to be redeemed—swallowing up sin and sinners in cleansing flames like no other.
That fiery destruction will give way to a new creation, and for one final time the Father will bring a blessing out of a curse, making all things new, enabling the earth to grow more beautiful and the people who inhabit it more loving.
I’ve learned that fathers sometimes say “Yes” when they actually mean “No,” and sometimes say “No” when, as children, we want only to hear “Yes.” But with our heavenly Father, “Yes” always means “Yes” and “No” always means “No.” And when the answer to our prayers is “No,” it always at the same time means “Yes” to something better. But usually it takes time to see it, and we must trust and believe that “all things work together for good.” Sometimes we may not see it at all in this life, but we have the assurance that someday, because He’s the wonderful Father that He is, God will wipe away all tears from our eyes and make all things new (Rom. 8:28; Rev. 21:4, 5). How could we wish for a better God than that?
And yet, one thing we will learn as the years of eternity come and go is that He is infinitely better than that, and that it will require no less than an eternity to see this as fully as our human limitations permit us. And we will love Him more and more … forever! Said Ellen G. White, “As knowledge is progressive, so will love, reverence, and happiness increase. The more men learn of God, the greater will be their admiration of His character.”2
1 Adapted from lyrics by Dennis Jernigan, Shepherd’s Heart Music, 2002.
2 The Great Controversy, p. 678.
Clinton Wahlen is an associate director of the Biblical Research Institute (BRI) at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States.