On Fathers

Comedian Louie Anderson wrote a book called Dear Dad, and this book is a series of letters he wrote to his now deceased father. Louie grew up in a home where he was one of eleven children, and his dad was an alcoholic. In the hilarious and clean style he is known for, he deals with a lot of the pain of having a broken family. Once after one of his routines, a lady approached him and said, “Louie, I just want to tell you how much I appreciate your comedy and how you try to refrain from cussing; you never use the ‘f’ word,” and Louie said, “Oh no, ma’am. I use the ‘f’ word. I used the ‘f’ word today. Didn’t you hear it? Family.” And she goes, “Oh no, no. I didn’t mean that ‘f’ word,” and he says, “Oh yeah, you mean that other ‘f’ word…I use that a lot too: Father.” 

How do you deal with it if you come from a place where you expected your father to embrace you, love you, and give you security but instead he left you, rejected you, or abandoned you? It doesn’t matter who you are, where you are from, if you are rich or poor, what your race is, what your educational background is, what language you speak—we have all been born with a longing to be embraced, accepted, affirmed and led by our father, and yet many times we are disappointed. And too often our perceptions of God have been tainted by our experiences with our earthly fathers. Sigmund Freud believed that once a child lost respect for his earthly father it was nearly impossible for him to understand what it meant to have a heavenly father. 

NYU professor Paul Vitz has written an intriguing book on the psychology of atheism, and in this book he goes back and looks at the childhoods of some of the most famous atheists in modern times. He developed what he calls a defective father hypothesis. So when you look back at the father stories of some of the most prominent atheists and philosophers and political leaders in modern times, you’ll be astounded by the correlations. Let’s look at a few philosophers: 

Friedrich Nietzsche was the son of a Lutheran pastor, and his dad died when he was four years old. Later Nietzsche would go on to write some incredible works of philosophy, and he became an atheist and pronounced the now famous statement: “God is dead.” One biographer said that Nietzsche’s whole work could be classified as a quest for father. Bertrand Russell, the brilliant Nobel Prize winning mathematician and philosopher from England was also four years old when his father died, and his mom passed away when he was two. He would go on to write Why I am Not a Christian, which was really a series of essays that was published. And he was a vehement opponent of theism, especially Christianity. Jean-Paul Sartre was a modern day existentialist. His dad died when he was fifteen months old, and he wrote about fathers in his work. He said fathers would bring a big burden on children that would crush them down, and he looked at people that were fatherless, like himself, as people with a sense of lightness and as people who could make that one true authentic choice to live their lives. 

You can look at political leaders like Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, and Stalin, and you will find an abusive and destructive dad. And Vitz comes to this conclusion in his book: When you look at the history of some of the most influential atheists you will find a weak, dead, or abusive father. 

What are you searching for? What have you been missing from a father figure? Acceptance, discipline, security? God the Father is all those things and more because He is our perfect heavenly Father. God the Father will not leave you; He will not forsake you. He will be with you when you are flat on your face in tears. He will be with you in your dark night of the soul. He will be with you in the joys and the celebrations of life. He is your creator, and He is also your Father through Christ. God the Father goes out of His way for you and for me to be adopted into His heavenly family, and that is why Christ died—that we might have a new father, that we might have a new family, that we might be a part of a new community, that is, the body of Christ, His church. And so that searching and that longing that we have in our hearts that has been there, the searching for a father, the searching for acceptance, the searching for discipline—all that search ends when we come to the realization that God, through Christ, has provided a way for us to know Him as Father. And when we realize this we can differentiate between a truth-based view of God and our own baggage. 

Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. ~ Psalm 27:10

Ben Young