Whether we know it or not, fathers lay the groundwork for the perceptions we will have about other men in our lives—and about God. I struggle with abandonment and rejection issues partially because my biological dad chose to leave me and my mom when I was a few weeks old, and he never kept in touch. When I got married, I feared my husband would become as distant to me and our future children as my step-dad was to my family growing up. He and I had to rebuild a trust that hadn’t even been broken yet, because I was so caught up on the emptiness I had felt in my own family growing up. Because our earthly fathers are typically the main model of what fatherhood looks like, it’s inevitable that our view of God—who is called our “Father”–will be skewed by our earthly fathers, who are imperfect beings. If your father left your family, you may view God as a deserter. If your father had an affair, you may worry that God is unfaithful. If your father is distant or hardened, you may feel as though God is far away and wants no involvement in your life. If your father is abusive, God may seem cruel to you.
In this short 3-day study, we are going to attempt to process the wounds left by the father figures in our lives. We will talk about the impact our earthly fathers had on us, what it means for God to be our Heavenly Father, and how we can move on from the hurt.
Note: I have used the ESV translation of the Bible unless otherwise specified.
Day One: Legacy
Read first: Numbers 16:1-35 / Psalm 84
The story of Korah’s rebellion is not one you see studied often. It’s typically glossed over, but I think there is so much wisdom to be found in this story. Korah was a Levite, which means he was part of the lineage of Jacob who was set apart by God to “do service in the tabernacle of the Lord and to stand before the congregation and minister to them” (Numbers 16:9). Numbers 4:15 makes me believe that Korah’s job included carrying different parts of the tent of meeting from place to place as Israel was wandering in the wilderness. Korah was unsatisfied with his status in the assembly and began to paint a picture in his head that Moses and Aaron were power hungry and trying to put themselves above the rest of the congregation (Numbers 16:3,13). In reality, they were appointed by God into their positions. Korah was envious of their God-given status and longed for that type of leadership and power himself, so he gathered 250 well-known members of the assembly and essentially tried to overthrow Moses and Aaron. The Lord, knowing that Korah’s heart was full of wickedness and malicious intent, instructed the rest of the congregation to separate themselves from Korah and his fellow rebels. Then, the Lord opened up the ground beneath the people of the rebellion, and it swallowed them up, along with all their households and belongings. While we could have a meaningful conversation about discontentment in our current season while looking at this story, we are going to actually take a look at Korah’s family and their involvement here.
The wording of Numbers 16:32 might make us believe that all the members of Korah’s household perished in the rebellion with him. However, if we jump over to the Psalms, we see that some of his descendants survived, becoming the authors of 11 of the Psalms. While the work Korah was given seemed like a small and insignificant thing to him, and he longed for more (Numbers 16:9-11), we see a completely different demeanor in these descendants of his. They continued in their work as Levites, doing their service to the Tabernacle of the Lord and ministering to God’s people—and they found true joy in doing so. In Psalm 84, they sang of how blessed are those who dwell in God’s house and how they longed to be part of it. And here is the real kicker: in Psalm 84:10 they say, “For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” The legacy left behind by their father did not dictate their future. While their father left behind a legacy of rebellion and jealousy, the sons of Korah gleefully took their positions working with the Tabernacle and went on to make eternal history by writing songs that eventually became part of the canon of Scripture.
Your future does not have to be defined by your family’s past. The sons of Korah made different decisions than their father, and you can, too. Whatever has happened to you, whatever has been said to you, whatever expectations have been left on you, that does not have to be who you are. You can do different things. You can treat people differently. You can pursue hobbies and careers that interest you rather than those passed on to you. In tomorrow’s study, we will consider what our Heavenly Father is actually like. But for now, let’s process our past and the legacies that have been left for us.
- Reflect on your relationship with your earthly father. What events in your life have led to your “daddy issues?”
- Do you feel like there has been a legacy left behind for you that has been forced upon you?
- In what ways are you thankful for your earthly father? In what positive ways has he helped shape who you are?
Day Two: Your Heavenly Father
Before we can talk about what it means to be a son or daughter of God, we must talk about what it means for God to be our Father. Today, we are going to look at just some of the fundamental truths about God as our Father if we are in Christ. I know there are a lot of verses referenced; please read all of them from at least one section that resonates with you.
- God created us and is proud of his creation. (Genesis 1:26-27, 31; Ephesians 2:8-10 NLT; Psalm 149:4)
Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, meaning he is the only one who is made of God’s very substance. We are created beings, made by God and in his image, but not of him. And yet, God calls us his very best creation—his masterpieces. God is proud to have made you. He is proud of you because he is proud of the work of his hands. No accomplishment can earn his affection; we are sinful people and will always fall short. And yet, he delights in us anyway. We do not and cannot earn his love!
- God provides for his children and gives them good gifts. (Genesis 1:28-29, 3:21; Exodus 16:4,35; Luke 12:22-32; Matthew 7:9-11)
Since the beginning of creation, God has never left man to fend for himself. He gave Adam and Eve dominion over every living thing and every plant yielding seed to eat. Even when they turned against him in the garden, he gave them garments of skins to cover up their nakedness. He provided Israel with daily bread from heaven (manna) the entirety of their wandering in the wilderness. Jesus teaches us in the Lord’s Prayer to pray for our “daily bread,” or what we need on a daily basis. Our Father knows what we need before we even ask, and he has proven throughout all of history that he will provide it if we seek first his kingdom. But he doesn’t stop at the bare necessities; his pleasure is to give us the kingdom! He is a Father who gives good things in abundance.
- God disciplines his children, whom he loves. (Revelation 3:19; Hebrews 12:7-11; Proverbs 3:11-12)
While this may not seem like a loving characteristic of God as a Father, it certainly is. In the same way a father may put a child in time out for a temper tantrum, or ground his teenage son for underage drinking, God disciplines his children in order to protect them and guide them in the right direction. When God sees us partaking in sin or harmful behavior, his reaction is correction, not punishment. God disciplines us that we may be made holy, not out of anger or to put us to shame.
- God forgives his children. (Luke 15:11-32; 1 John 1:9; Daniel 9:9)
One of the most obvious Scriptures given to us about God’s fatherhood is the story of the Prodigal Son. In this story, the son disrespected his father and squandered his inheritance, only to find himself broke, alone, and hungry. He comes home seeking to become a servant to his father. But when his father sees him, he runs to him and celebrates his return. God accepts our true repentance and forgives us when we mess up, which is inevitable. He will not deny his true child who comes home.
- God makes sacrifices for us. (Hebrews 9:22; Romans 5:8; John 3:16; Matthew 27)
While every act of God is meant to glorify himself, he is not selfish. If we look again at Adam and Eve in Genesis 3:21, we can gather that God made the first sacrifice on behalf of humanity in this moment. He performed the first animal sacrifice and made garments of its skin, not only to clothe their nakedness, but to cover up the shame they felt. Animal sacrifice later became the system by which God’s people were cleansed of their sins. Only by the shedding of blood was there forgiveness of sins. We see God’s sacrificial love for us reach its crescendo when his only begotten Son, Jesus, was given over to be crucified for the sins of humanity.
- Has your relationship with your earthly father had any impact on the way you view God as Father? If so, how?
- Which characteristic of God as our Father struck you most? Why?
- Write in your journal about how you have experienced God’s fatherhood in these ways. Which trait is hardest for you to believe?
Day Three: Letting Go
Just as God’s identity is not determined by earthly fathers, neither is our identity determined by them. If you are in Christ, you can find your identity in the God who made you and knows you. You are chosen and wanted (Ephesians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 2:9). You have been welcomed and adopted as sons and daughters of the one true King (Romans 8:14-15). You are heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, meaning you get to share in his inheritance and his kingdom (Romans 8:16-17; Luke 12:32). You are children of light, not children of wrath or darkness (1 Thessalonians 5:5; Ephesians 2:3-5). You are loved by God, and you will be made like him (1 John 3:1-2, Ephesians 5:1). You don’t have to be like your earthly father, but you get to be an imitator of God. As imitators of a forgiving God, I want to end our time together with this challenge: forgive your father. Your freedom is found in the everlasting love of God and in your identity as his child. You can be released from the chains of bitterness and hatred that keep you from experiencing the true rest and freedom that comes with forgiveness.
Now, I want to be clear: forgiving someone does not mean you have to contact them. Some of you, in fact, should not contact your fathers, especially if they are dangerous. But we can learn what it looks like to forgive someone in our hearts and let go of the pain we feel. If we continue to poke at the festering anger and resentment that encircles thoughts of our fathers, we will never let the wounds heal. It’s like having a scab; you want to itch and pick at it, but continuing to open the wound will make it continue to bleed.
Before we end our time together, please read Matthew 18:21-35 and reflect below.
In this parable, the servant owed the master ten thousand talents. One “talent” was equivalent to twenty years’ wages for a laborer. That equals 200,000 years’ wages! Not in a million years would the servant be able to repay this debt! The master, having great mercy, cleared the servant of all the debt he owed. The servant, completely free and owing nothing, then goes on to nearly kill a man who owes him about four months’ wages. If God can forgive us for a lifetime of sin, why is it so hard for us to forgive others for much less of an offense? We are instructed in Ephesians 4:31-32 to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and slander, and to forgive one another “as God in Christ forgave you.” To fully embrace our identity as a child of God, we must let go of the debt we think is owed to us. It is the only way to heal. When Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, he said, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20 NIV). He forgave his family for the unspeakable and was able to see God’s fingerprints throughout all of it. God’s plan is not hindered by our pain and hurt, but rather, we see it come to fulfillment in the way he redeems us from it. Let your Father wrap up your wounds. Start your healing today.
- In your journal, write down any lies you are believing about yourself (e.g., I am shameful, I am unwanted, etc). On the next page, write the contrasting truth Scripture tells you about who you are in Christ.
- Knowing that who you are is found in Christ, write a letter to your dad, forgiving him for whatever you need to let go of. If you feel comfortable giving or reading it to him, do it.