Father's Day can be a challenging time for some people. In our society we are surrounded, not only by people who have had good experiences with their fathers, but also those who have endured terrible experiences. We are a people of broken homes and broken promises, where those who should have been a beacon of safety become the source and cause of fear; where strength is used to hurt rather than heal. For many, therefore, Father's Day is a reminder, not of love and appreciation of the self-sacrifice of a parent, but of abandonment, neglect, and abuse.
In the midst of this tragic reality it can be difficult to see the value in understanding God as our Father. After all, why would we want to use a term that has been attached, for so many, to the presence of pain to describe One who claims to give us peace and hope? It is this paradox that highlights for us how important it is to view the world in the correct order. What I mean is that we should not look at our earthly fathers (even those of us who have had impeccably loving earthly fathers) as the example of what it means that God is our Father; rather, we should look at God, who is described as Father, and consider Him as the template and example of what an earthly father should be. We do not look at humanity, as image bearers of God, and draw final conclusions of who God is. Instead, we look to God as the ultimate example of how to be fully human.
The challenge we face is that, even though humanity is created in the image of God we too often view God as being made in the image of man. We cannot look at the failures of our own mortal frailty and conclude that God himself is frail. We must look to God as the example of how we should live. We must look at the life of Jesus, who took on the frailty of mortal flesh, and conclude that we too can seek to live by His standard of love, compassion, kindness, forgiveness, and mercy.
"Christianity is the religion of fatherhood, which means that it is not founded on intellectual ideals or philosophical deductions, but on the experience of love which floods our whole life, on the experience of personal love." (Schmemann, Our Father) May we model the personal love that God the Father has for humanity through the love we show to each other, and in so doing, help people to heal from the betrayal, hopelessness, and pain they have experienced as they've passed through the challenges of life.
As we help people experience true love through understanding what a Father truly is, we can help them to find meaning in their lives. For in understanding God as our Father, "here we find the meaning of love, and the answer to love, here lies the experience of intimacy and the joy of this experience, here faith opens into truth, and dependence yields to freedom, intimacy and ultimately unfolds as joy. This is no longer an idea about God, but already knowledge of God, this is already communion with him in love, in unity, and trust. This is already the beginning of knowing eternity. For Christ himself said to the Father: 'For this is eternal life, that they would know you.'" (Schmemann)