“Every boy, in his journey to become a man, takes an arrow in the center of his heart… And the wound is nearly always given by his father.” -John Eldredge
Over the past few weeks, I’ve written a fair bit about Bart Millard’s tumultuous childhood in the home of his abusive father.
But, for many of us, that’s just not our story. As far as we can tell, our dads were saints.
In this clip from our, I Can Only Imagine series, Bart tells the story of a time when he learned that abusive fathers aren’t the only ones who wound their children.
Why All The Emphasis On Dads?
Christians have a lot to say about God’s fatherhood. Just take a quick look at John’s Gospel, and you’ll find the word father on pretty much every page.
In fact, Christians are so captivated by this idea that more than a few skeptics have wondered whether “god” is just a cover for our collective issues with daddy.
In 1841, Ludwig Feuerbach famously argued that all we Christians do is project our desires into the heavenly plane. Nearly a century later, Sigmund Freud used this idea to argue that belief in God amounts to nothing more than our wish for a perfect Father.
Nice history lesson, but what’s that got to do with anything?
You may not be convinced—I’m not—but the questions Freud & Feuerbach (F&F) raise have exercised pious thinkers and casual religious observers alike.
What do we mean when we call God “father?” Are we just talking about our daddy issues, or are we saying something infinitely more significant for the human experience?
One of the most imaginative and compelling attempts to answer those questions comes to us in C.S. Lewis’s “The Silver Chair.”
In that book, three characters set out to rescue Narnia’s prince from the Underworld. During the escape, they’re snatched up by the Dark Queen. She then casts a spell that causes them to slowly lose their memory of the Overworld from which they came.
The Queen presses her captives: forget that Overworld, it’s just a figment of your imagination. But, of course, the prince pushes back. There is an overworld! It’s bathed in light from the sun and ruled by a benevolent lion named Aslan.
The Queen laughs and points to a lamp across the room. There’s your sun. And, your Aslan? Nothing is more than an idealized version of a stray cat. No, dear children, this is the only world there is. Now, stop your wishful thinking.
Spoiler alert: the crew eventually escapes. And, as the characters emerge into the brilliant sunlight, the Queen’s “projection theory” crumbles.
There is an Overworld. The sun is real. And Aslan does reign.
Reimagining Our Earthly Fathers in Light of Our Heavenly Father
Using this delightful little story, Lewis has completely reframed F&F’s question: Is it possible that Christian “father-talk” has nothing to do with our daddy issues and everything to do with the fact that God is the original Father who made us?
Is it possible that Christian “father-talk” has nothing to do with our daddy issues and everything to do with the fact that God is the original Father who made us?
If that’s true—as the Bible says it is (John 20:17; Rom. 8:15; etc.)—we need to radically adjust our ideas about what a father is in light of who the Father is. He is the Creator; we are His creatures. He is the Original; we are His images.
The Bible invites us to look at God’s fatherly goodness and revel in what it means to be His sons and daughters. But, at the same time, it points us to our earthly fathers so that, in them, we might learn something about our Heavenly Father as well (cf. Heb. 12:7-11).
And, that’s precisely what gives fathers the power to wound their children so deeply.
All of us—men and women—feel the weight of our fathers’ sins so acutely because, deep within us, we know every dad pales in comparison to our heavenly Father.
Nevertheless, that ingrained love of the Father stirs up in us a deep and sometimes paradoxical love (link to Paradoxical) for our earthly fathers—whether they deserve it or not.
A Fatherly Word in Conclusion
For those of us who’ve struggled with the pain of having a rotten father, this leaves us in that awkward place between love and hate. “I’ll never be like my dad,” we vow. Still, we long to hear his words, “Well done, my good and faithful child.”
For those of us who’ve received the blessing of an incredible father and kids of our own, the struggle is no less real.I’ll never be like my dad,” we lament. And, still, we long to hear him speak over our fatherly efforts, “Well done, my good and faithful child.”
In Christ, God speaks a better word to all of us. Thanks to His redemptive work on our behalf, we have become by grace what He has always been by nature—children of the living God.
Son or daughter, by His wounds, you have been healed (Isa. 53:5).
Because that’s true, we can dare to reimagine fatherhood.
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