“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” – 1 John 3:1NIV
What images, thoughts, or feelings instantly come to mind when you read that single, powerful name?
For some of you, it may be a trustworthy, super-hero like figure whose strong hands held you when you cried and taught you to play football.
For some of you, it may be a mysterious, empty title…a looming, dark figure with no face whose presence was made loud by its absence from birthdays, holidays, and the victories of life.
For some of you, this is a dangerous name…a name filled with booming, angry voices, pain, and fear.
For some, this is a bitter title, symbolic of empty promises and unfulfilled longing. A figure, while present, who made you feel like nothing more than an uninteresting footnote in his life.
Depending on which father you had, the concept of being the “child of God”, a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father…may be difficult to understand. Even if you had the best of fathers, he wasn’t perfect, and for many of you, the idea of a father hasn’t been much of a positive experience in your life.
Yet John writes “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1A ESV [emphasis mine]).
To understand what he means, I think we need to head over to Jesus’ “Parable of the Prodigal Son” in Luke 15. Jesus is trying to help people understand just how incredible the love of God is for His people. So He tells the story of a man with two sons. One son is faithful and good and continues to help his wealthy father work the land. The other son essentially tells his father “you are dead to me” by taking his inheritance money from his father and running off to live the high life on the money. Naturally, the money runs out, and he finds himself starving to death, feeding pigs in the countryside just to survive. And suddenly he comes to a realization in Luke 15:17-19ESV, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.'”
Already we’re getting a taste of what kind of man the father is. You see, there are a few problems first century hearers would have expected this young man to face on returning home. One is he was merely a second son. You only need one son to inherit the family estate, so there is no pressure on the father to accept the boy back, despite what he had done. Second, the son had insulted his father’s honor by demanding the inheritance before his father’s death, leaving the family work, and running off to spend the money on “frivolous” things (we can safely infer gambling, prostitution, and the like). It would have been expected the father would, at the very least, disown the son, and there would have been no surprise if the father had the son killed on sight to preserve his honor.
With all this, the son is still willing to go home and ask his father for work. That implies something the son knows about his father’s character: he is kind, he is merciful, he is loving, he is forgiving… The sons knows what his actions deserve, yet he still does not doubt his father will allow him back safely. Yet even then, the son underestimates his father. Not only does the father not demand the punishment due for his son’s behavior, instead “his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him… the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate” (Luke 15:20, 22-24ESV).
Not only does the father not demand the life of the son for the evil he has done…the father welcomes him with open arms, running to him to end the separation that much sooner. The father celebrates the son’s return, not even bringing up what happened in the past but living only in the joy of reunion. Despite everything, the son is cared for, loved, cherished, and welcomed…without restraint.
And that is the kind of Father our Heavenly Father is. When John writes we have been “showered” with love by God calling Himself our Father and we His children, that is the kind of loving relationship we can expect with God.
Not a distant, faceless, empty absence in the joys and sorrows of our lives.
Not an angry, judgmental, hurtful shadow looming from the darkness to “get us” when we mess up.
Not a disinterested, blessing-dispenser who’ll snatch us up when we die but otherwise has washed his hands of the intimate details of our lives.
This God…this Father cares about every detail because He cares about you. This God wants you back, despite how bad a mess you’ve made of your life. This God is walking with you into the challenges, celebrating the joys and victories, and looking forward to when you can look Him straight in the eyes as He says, “Well done.”
What great love, indeed.
- How do you feel and think about your experience with earthly fatherhood?
- Do you see yourself sometimes viewing God through the lens of how you have experienced fatherhood? How?
- How would it change the way you view your life to see God as a “good Father”, not matter your personal experience with fatherhood?
- Challenge for the Week: Spend some time reading passages where God calls Himself “Father” or us “Children”. Make a list of all the good things it means to be a “child of God”. Put the list where you can see it as you prepare for your day.