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How our earthly fathers influence our image of God


Cima da Conegliano | Public Domain

Philip Kosloski - published on 05/08/24

It can be difficult to call God "Father" when our own earthly father has disappointed us or maybe even abandoned us.

Many of us have a difficult time calling God “Father.” Whenever we do, a flood of earthly images can come into our minds.

As much as we might try to deny it, our own experience with fathers plays a pivotal role in how we view God.

Loving fathers

If we have a father who loves us and who is merciful with us, it should be relatively easy to imagine a God who is the perfection of that love and mercy.

Our earthly father may have a similar heart to the father in the Prodigal Son, a father with arms open wide, ready and willing to accept us when we fall.

St. Thérèse of Lisieux had such a saintly father, who showed her the Father’s love at an early age and made it easy for her to love God.

Absent fathers

Then there is the other extreme of fathers who either abandon their children or inflict pain and suffering on them.

If we have such a father, we will likely grow up thinking that all fathers are like that.

A merciful and loving God will seem like an impossibility.

For many of us, this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to opening our hearts to God.

Purifying our images

The Catechism of the Catholic Church mentions this reality in its section on the Lord’s Prayer, reminding us that we need to purify our images of fatherhood:

Before we make our own this first exclamation of the Lord’s Prayer, we must humbly cleanse our hearts of certain false images drawn “from this world.” Humility makes us recognize that “no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him,” that is, “to little children.” The purification of our hearts has to do with paternal or maternal images, stemming from our personal and cultural history, and influencing our relationship with God.

CCC 2779

The key for us is to recognize that God is the source of true fatherhood.

We did not impose the title “Father” on God, but God revealed it to us:

God our Father transcends the categories of the created world. To impose our own ideas in this area “upon him” would be to fabricate idols to adore or pull down. To pray to the Father is to enter into his mystery as he is and as the Son has revealed him to us.

CCC 2779

Whenever we call God “Father,” we need to remember that his fatherhood is not based on our dad, but that all dads are called to be like God our Heavenly Father.

CCC PrayerFatherhoodPrayer
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