If My Father Abused Me, How Could I Ever Say “Heavenly Father”?

Anonymous asked a question:

My father is an abuser and maybe it’s stupid, but how can people can not be afraid of the words “our father in heaven”?

Hey my friend, thank you for sharing so honestly and I’m sorry you experienced such abuse. I hope and pray you are at a safe distance today and that you are recovering.

Your concern is not “stupid” at all. It’s absolutely valid. I work as a chaplain at two places, the hospital and a homeless shelter, and when I address God, at both places I am very careful when I say “God our father.” Especially at the homeless shelter. Many of the low income families I encounter have not had good experiences with any sort of male figure. To say “father” is okay for some, but also devastating for others.

It’s okay if you choose not to use this language for a season, or even for a lifetime. While I know saying so might cause pushback, my guess is that many churches and Christians simply cannot understand the weight around the word “father,” how much baggage and how many burdens that it brings up, how it can be re-traumatizing to those who have suffered from male figures. Any theological word that conjures a real image—master, lord, teacher, king, lover, prince—must not be used flippantly.

Even for those who have had a very loving relationship with their dad, saying “God our father” can still be confusing, intimidating, or restricting. Any analogies we use for God are simply just that: attempts to understand God, but not fully God in and of themselves.

For those who think this is ridiculous or taking “sensitivity” too far, I want to ask: Why? Why is it ridiculous? Why does it bother you that it bothers someone? Wouldn’t you want to be more gracious and not less? If it hurts someone, must it not raise compassion rather than an eye roll?

My hope is that one day, if possible, you may see the beauty of the word father and what it was really meant for. God is the parent we always wanted and needed, and nothing like any parent we have ever experienced. All our parents, no matter how well they did, are still broken and flawed images, and at best they will only offer a glimpse of the divine love that God offers.

The goodness we experience on earth is often a portal to who God is, and so much of our pain only reminds us of what we need and what we are missing. If that day doesn’t come, no one must blame you for such a thing, and God will not either.

— J.S.

Photo from Unsplash

One thought on “If My Father Abused Me, How Could I Ever Say “Heavenly Father”?

  1. “God is the parent we always wanted and needed, and nothing like any parent we have ever experienced.”

    Oh, so sweet and so true.

    To those who have suffered abuse, abandonment, etc. from their fathers, I’m so sorry. I had a good father, so relating to God in this way is sweet and beautiful to me. But I know that God is too good and too big to be restricted to only one way of relating to him. I know he will reach your heart in a way that is perfectly suited to you.

    Liked by 1 person

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