Soul Shift #4 – Our Father In Heaven, Part 1: Healing the Father Wound

SoulShift

“Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven…” –Matthew 6:9a

This morning we want to take aim at the concept of the father wound…

As we lean into this season of prayer — and seek to (by God’s grace, mercy, and power) move from ‘ordinary’ prayer to ‘extraordinary’ prayer we must first acknowledge that we tend to view God through the lens of our earthly fathers.  And many people have had difficult relationships with their earthly fathers and, consequently, have great difficulty transitioning to viewing God as a good and loving Father.

If you did not feel safe, protected, affirmed, and secure in your father’s presence, you may spend your entire life looking for a place of comfort and rest.  And some people grow-up without a father in the home – for a variety of reasons.

The National Fatherhood Initiative informs us that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 24 million children in America — one out of three — live in biological father-absent homes.  Consequently, there is a “father factor” in nearly all of the social issues facing America today.

Children’s first impressions about men come from their early experiences with their father – or the lack thereof.

The Father/Daughter Relationship forms the daughter’s opinions of what men are — or should be, how they should act, especially towards her, and how she should be with them. The father’s behavior towards women shapes the way she learns to relate to men. If the father withdrew his affection at the time she entered puberty, the wound only goes deeper.

The father is to model how to give and receive affection and tenderness while demonstrating the proper use of strength and power.

Part of the father’s responsibility is to lovingly prepare his daughter for the major shifts that take place as she moves from child to adolescent to young woman and beyond. Unfortunately, many father’s, themselves, had trouble adjusting and many others just weren’t available to teach her to venture out from the protected realm of the home to deal with each new phase and its physical and social adjustments.

The Father/Son Relationship forms the son’s opinions of how he is supposed to act and how he should treat women. Too often, however, the father wasn’t around to present a healthy model for his son. (Remember the Cats In the Cradle lyrics?  It’s a very sad song…)

From Strength in Weakness by Andrew Comiskey — a book about sexual and relational healing…

“Though the [heavenly] Father intended for us to be roused and sharpened by our fathers, we find more often than not that our fathers were silent and distant, more shadow than substance in our lives. This kind of a ‘shadow’ presence is not what our heavenly Father intended for our relationships with our earthly fathers.

The first half of the 20th century really messed up fatherhood – and has impacted succeeding generations.

A Perception of the 20th Century

  • WW I gave way to the “Roaring Twenties” a season of subdued hedonism. (Subdued in comparison to our current hedonistic culture!)
  • The Great Depression followed the Roaring Twenties… 
  • And then WW II followed the Great Depression.
  • If your father or grandfather grew up in the Great Depression it means they never had a chance to have a childhood.
  • Tom Brokaw wrote in his 1998 book The Greatest Generation, “it is, I believe, the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”  He argued that these men and women fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do. When they came back they rebuilt America into a superpower.”  That’s the upside.  There also a downside — an emotional passivity.  The Depression and WW II had inflicted some severe emotional (and spiritual) woundedness.
  • And for those of us who were born after WW II there was an economic and baby boom — and consequently our fathers tended to give us ‘things’ but not themselves.  We must keep in mind our fathers and not been fathered well either.
  • And then there was the ‘60’s and 70’s.  We had legitimate longs and desires, but looked for them in the wrong places.
  • Those first 60-70 years of the 20th century has greatly affected several generations of men – and fatherhood.

I share these things to provide us with some perspective.  You may not have received what you needed from your father – but consider that he probably didn’t either.

So, here we are in the 21st century.  And the whole concept of what constitutes a family, let alone fatherhood has become very twisted and confused.

Men today face the confusing challenge of learning to balance power with sensitivity, strength with feeling, and mind with heart — sometimes all on our own.

Some of us encounter significant difficulty here because we get stuck viewing our heavenly Father through the lens of our earthly fathers.

For some the transition is easy and instantaneous for others it becomes a very difficult and arduous journey.

Regardless of parental devotion, no parent can fulfill all of the child’s wants, needs, or desires.

While these wounds can be inflicted with intent, many are unintentional yet still affect the child throughout life.

Consider Malachi 4 – The Final Chapter of the OT

4:1-6: “For behold, the day is coming, burning like a furnace; and all the arrogant and every evildoer will be chaff; and the day that is coming will set them ablaze,” says the Lord of hosts, “so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.” “But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall. You will tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day which I am preparing,” says the Lord of hosts.

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.”

As the Old Testament closes, God makes known that He is not by any means finished with His plan for the world. There is a great day of victory coming and there will be preparations for it so that the people of God will be ready.

That is what we would expect at the end of the Old Testament—a bridge between old and new—a look back at the faithful work of God in the past and a look forward to the final victory.

The Malachi text is the final passage in the Old Covenant.  It is quite significant in that its promise — and warning, frame the very doorway to the New Covenant, the threshold to the coming Messiah.

In verse 6 we see one of the effects of God’s mercy—and an unexpected one at that.

When Elijah preaches, and cries out for people to get ready to meet on the great and terrible day of the Lord, what happens?

Verse 6:

“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the land with a curse.”

It implies that the brokenness in this world between children and fathers reflects the brokenness between humanity and God. That is, restoring relationship with the Father is, in fact, the very focus of God’s saving power in this world.

Thus, Jesus came to reconcile humanity to the Father (John 14:8-13). Nowhere in this world is the incentive for that reconciliation more keenly felt than in relationship with our earthly fathers.

The father-wound portrayed in the Malachi text is the difference between what your father has given you (or not given you) and what our heavenly Father God wants to give you. Thus, every person on the planet bears some form of a father wound.

No pain strikes more deeply into a person’s heart than being abandoned emotionally and/or physically by Dad. No pain, therefore, more directly beckons the saving power of God the Father.

A full 400 years after Malachi wrote those words under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the New Covenant dawns with the announcement of the birth of the Messiah

In Luke 1:13-17:

The angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John…. 17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

There is evidence in other parts of the NT that John the Baptist is not the final, or only, “spirit and power of Elijah”…

John the Baptist may be a forerunner to an “Elijah Company,” and Elijah ‘task-force,’ if you will — of men being raised up to walk in and to impart the Father’s love to a generation that is longing for significance and purpose in life.

The pattern of distant unavailable father’s has been repeated throughout the 20th century.

It’s not about trying to BE their fathers or mothers, it’s about being able to introduce them to “our Father in heaven” (and heaven, by the way is more of a perspective than a zip-code – more about that next week).

Defining the Father’s Love

The four Greek words for ‘love’…

  • STORGE – family (instinctual) love
  • PHILEO – brotherly/sisterly (friendship) love (tender affection)
  • EROS – Romantic or erotic love
  • AGAPE – Unconditional or sacrificial love

“But God demonstrates his own love [AGAPE] for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”   Romans 5:8 (NIV)

We generally focus on AGAPE when defining the Father’s love in a theological sense.

His unconditional love and on the cross concern for us is demonstrated in Christ’s death for us (Rom. 5:8).

This foundational truth is assumed to be common knowledge among most Christians but that is not the primary focus today…

Let’s now consider God’s PHILEO love:

John 5:20: “For the Father loves [PHILEO] the Son and shows Him all he does.”

In attempting to define the Father’s love in a more experiential sense we can focus on His PHILEO – His demonstrated tender affection for us.  The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described above in John 5:20.

The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of His Father’s PHILEO love.  Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense His Father’s presence and hear His Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing.

John 16:27: (Jesus) “…The Father himself loves [PHILEO] you because you have loved [PHILEO] me and believed that I came from God.” (NIV)

The PHILEO love of the Father for believers is described in John 16:27 (see above).  Our communication with God apparently is to flow out of our continual experience of our Father’s PHILEO for us.

Whereas AGAPE focuses on a truth about God, PHILEO seems to focus more on the touch from God.  This touch of love is missing from many Christian’s lives.

The “Abba” Cry/Longing

Romans 8:15: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship.  And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.'”

Galatians 4:6: “Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father.'”

  • According to Jewish rabbinical teachings, slaves were forbidden to address the head of the family by the affectionate title, “Abba.”
  • “Abba” approximates “papa” or “daddy” and implies unwavering trust.
  • “Father” expresses intelligent comprehension of the relationship.
  • Together the two reveal the trusting love and intelligent confidence of a secure son or daughter.

The chief activity of the Holy Spirit is to:

  • Draw us into a vital relationship with the Father.  Our “Abba Father” is not only the source of everything in both creation and redemption, He is also the goal of everything.
  • Prompt in us the “Abba” cry/longing; which is first and foremost the basis of our worship.

Luke 15:11-31 – This parable of the prodigal sons confronts our false assumptions about what pleases God.

11Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

13″Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

17″When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’ 20So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

21″The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

22″But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.

25″Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27’Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’

28″The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’

31″ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ “

Healing the Father Wound 

1.  Surrender to the Father’s initiating love.

    • The father moves toward both sons… in order to express his love and bring them in.
    • It’s not repentance that causes the father’s love – but the reverse.  It’s surrendering to the father’s love that brings about repentance.

2.  Refuse to be emotionally passive.  (This was primarily the sin of the older brother, but the traveling prodigal was also willing to resign himself to this.)

    • Emotional Passivity is repressed, self-imposed oppression of emotions based on an unmet longing for acceptance – usually from our fathers.  This repression, or self-imposed oppression, generates anger that if allowed to turn inward will eventually express itself as either chronic depression, or passive-aggressive behavior.
    • Awakening the passive soul begins with confessing the sin of deadening our soul and making conscious choices to (go ahead and) feel the sadness, the grief, the sorrow — and ultimately the joy. (We have learned some of the principles of healthy grief and loss as we have sought to integrate emotional health into our discipleship process.)
      • Sadness opens the heart to what was meant to be and is not. 
      • Grief opens the heart to what was not meant to be and is. 
      • Sorrow breaks the heart as it exposes the damage we’ve done to others as a result of our unwillingness to wildly pursue God’s grace and truth.

3.  Refuse to mistrust.

    • Reengages the God-given desire to be concerned about the temporal and eternal destiny of those who have harmed us.  This transfers trust to God and releases us to care, to be kind, and to authentically comfort others.
    • It is not being gullible or stupid – “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Mat. 10:16).
    • To care is to use all that we are for the good of others while not walling off the deep parts of our soul.
    • The process towards deep caring begins with admitting there is sadness.
    • Grief admits there are scars that can be removed only in heaven.
    • Godly sorrow begins to develop when we begin to see that our demand for God to prove He cares is a mockery of the Cross (which sufficient proof of His trustworthiness).

4.  Refuse to deny holy passion.

    • Passion can be defined as the deep response of the soul to life:  the freedom to rejoice and the freedom to weep.
    • A refusal to deny, or despise, passion embraces both pain and pleasure.
    • A fear of passion makes it nearly impossible to be fully present with other people.
    • It’s refusing to flee back into the numbing – whatever that is
    • It is admitting that while I may be a mess, I AM ALIVE — and there is hope!

Thoughts on Love

Speaking of Valentine’s Day… I’ve been writing quite a bit lately – working on a manuscript on the mysterious topic of intimacy. Today I was grappling with the ideas of love. As I worked through my notes I found some descriptions and definitions for the various Greek words for love. Here’s a sampling…

OT Theme – The Prophets, particularly Hosea and Ezekiel, described God’s passion for his people using boldly erotic images. God’s relationship with Israel is described using the metaphors of betrothal and marriage; idolatry is thus likened to adultery and prostitution.

EROS (ἔρως) –

  • Intense physical desire. It’s the same word we get our English word “erotic” from. The Song of Solomon (or Songs) is a passionate and powerful recounting of a man and a woman falling in love that includes the erotic aspects of their love.
  • In their book Holy Eros, James and Evelyn Whitehead speak of a different slant on eros than is typically defined in Evangelical circles…

Although we usually associate eros with the engines of sexual desire, it is much more than that: “It is an ebullient, eager, and sometimes disruptive energy that moves us again and again toward more life…the energy of eros also opens pathways to our passionate God.”
“The human journey is sustained by eros and grace.”
Eros names the vital energy that animates all creation.”
Eros lies at the source of our desires — for friendship and love, for fruitful work, for life in abundance.
“Grace names the healing energy that flows from our loving God, transforming the world through compassion and hope.”
Eros and grace embrace in the heart of God.”

  • The Whiteheads proclaim that the Holy One is involved in the affairs of humanity as they survey the Biblical themes of grace and divine extravagance. In a section on “The Body’s Romance with Eros,” the authors discuss the potencies of sensuality and sexuality; the movements of eros in energy and tension; our body image and the body sacramental; and the eros of pleasure as a pathway to presence and gratitude. It is so good to read about positive ways of thinking and practicing eros in everyday life.
  • The Whiteheads also connect the passions with hope, suffering, anger, and compassion. The vital energies of eros infuse us with the transformative power of hope, the ability to cope with suffering and pain, the chance to use anger as a spur to righteous indignation, and the call to love our neighbors and reach out to strangers.
  • In a section of the book titled “The Rhythms of Eros,” the authors deal with presence and absence as a means of honoring light and darkness; holding on and letting go as learning the rules of engagement; feasting and fasting as nourishing the Spirit; and shadows of eros with a look at ways vital energy can go awry. The Whiteheads are convinced that our erotic lives stir within us wonder, imagination, creativity, curiosity, and generosity. (I haven’t read the book yet – found an excellent review at this site.)
  • C.S. Lewis in his book The Four Loves describes eros as love in the sense of ‘being in love.’ He says this is distinct from sexuality, which Lewis calls Venus, although he does spend time discussing sexual activity and its spiritual significance in both a pagan and a Christian sense. He identifies eros as indifferent. This promotes appreciation of the beloved regardless of any pleasure that can be obtained from him/her. It can be bad, however, because this blind devotion has been at the root of many of history’s most abominable tragedies. In keeping with his warning that “love begins to be a demon the moment [it] begins to be a god”, he warns against the danger of elevating eros to the status of a god.

PHILEO (φιλία) –

  • A brotherly/sisterly kind of love. Philadelphia is the city of “brotherly love.” While males and females can’t be non-sexual in relationships; we can be non-erotic. Phileo love is friendship love without the “weirdness” – and where we feel safe.
  • My take on the writing and speaking of (Vineyard pastor, author, and speaker) Ed Piorek is his different, and quite helpful, slant on PHILEO love… In attempting to define the Father’s love in the experiential sense we are focusing on his PHILEO – his demonstrated tender affection for us. The PHILEO of the Father for the Son is described in John 5:20. The ministry of Jesus apparently flowed out of a continual experience of his Father’s PHILEO. Within the intimacy of this relationship, Jesus could sense his Father’s presence and hear his Father’s voice, thus perceiving what the Father was saying and doing. Henri Nouwen also speaks to this as he defines prayer as listening for the voice of God who calls you his beloved.
  • C. S. Lewis on PHILEO – Friendship is a strong bond existing between people who share a common interest or activity. Lewis explicitly says that his definition of friendship is narrower than mere companionship: friendship in his sense only exists if there is something for the friendship to be “about”. He calls Companionship a matrix for friendship, as friendship can rise in the context of both. Friendship is the least natural of loves, states Lewis; i.e., it is not biologically necessary to progeny like either sorge (e.g., rearing a child), eros (e.g., creating a child), or agape (e.g., providing for a child). It has the least association with impulse or emotion. In spite of these characteristics, it was the belief of the ancients, (and Lewis himself), that it was the most admirable of loves because it looked not at the beloved (like eros), but towards that “about”—that thing because of which the relationship was formed. This freed the participants in this friendship from self-consciousness.

STORGE (στοργή) –

  • Describes affection and was applied especially to the mutual love between family members. In the New Testament, this word is used in the negative as astorgos, of steárgo (to cherish affectionately) and means hard-hearted toward kindred and is translated “without natural affection”(Rom 1:31 marg.), inhuman (2Ti. 3:3 RSV), unloving (2Ti. 3:3 NKJV) The word is also used in combination with philos. philostorgos (5387), “tenderly loving” (from philos, “friendly,” storge), is used in Rom. 12:10, rv, “tenderly affectioned” (kjv, “kindly affectioned”). (Vine’s complete expository dictionary of Old and New Testament words).
  • C. S. Lewis describes STORGE as affection and fondness through familiarity, especially between family members or people who have otherwise found themselves together by chance. It is described as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: natural in that it is present without coercion; emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity; and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed “valuable” or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors. Ironically, its strength, however, is what makes it vulnerable. Affection has the appearance of being “built-in” or “ready made”, says Lewis, and as a result people come to expect, even to demand, its presence—irrespective of their behavior and its natural consequences.

AGAPE (ἀγάπη) –

  • Describes a unique type of supreme love involving a conscious and deliberate choice to do good for another, a commitment based on the willful choice of the lover, not the qualities of the person receiving the love.
  • This word, interestingly enough, was used quite sparingly by ancient secular Greek writers. It’s original definition identified a kind of abstract virtue out of Greek thought.
  • Over the years, this word has been redefined to describe a different kind of love in relationship to God.
  • AGAPE love is a sacrificial love that reaches out to people who don’t deserve it – a love that puts the interests of others first – a love that forgives and starts over. AGAPE love means caring, forgiving, spontaneous, redeeming love, which is the essence of God’s nature.
  • AGAPE love may be best described in John 3:16, “For God so loved that world that He gave His only begotten Son…”
  • C. S. Lewis on AGAPE, or charity, is the love that brings forth caring regardless of circumstance. Lewis recognizes this as the greatest of loves, and sees it as a specifically Christian virtue. The chapter on the subject focuses on the need of subordinating the natural loves to the love of God, who is full of charitable love. Lewis states that “He is so full, in fact, that it overflows, and He can’t help but love us.” Lewis compares love with a garden, charity with the gardening utensils, the lover as the gardener, and God as the elements of nature. God’s love and guidance act on our natural love (that cannot remain what it is by itself) as the sun and rain act on a garden: without either, the object (metaphorically the garden; realistically love itself) would cease to be beautiful or worthy. Lewis warns that those who exhibit charity must constantly check themselves that they do not flaunt—and thereby warp—this love (“But when you give to someone, don’t tell your left hand what your right hand is doing.”—Matthew 6:3), which is its potential threat.

An acquaintance of mine, Walter Hansen, says this — Much is made about the difference between friendship (PHILEO) love and divine (AGAPE) love, but this is overdone. The words are used interchangeably for Jesus’ love. For example, the sisters of Lazarus sent a message to Jesus to tell him, “the one you love (PHILEO) is sick” (John 11:3). Then the gospel writer tells us, “Jesus loved (AGAPE) Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” The point is that Jesus loved in many different ways. All the words for love in every language of the world together are still insufficient to describe the love of Jesus.