I have given this a lot of thought for years and especially this last year. One of the daughters in my life has given me the opportunity to think more deeply about these issues than I think I ever would have otherwise. It only seems appropriate to pass these along on a day where we celebrate the fathers in our lives.
The ultimate job fathers
A father has one task. Only one fundamental job.
It is his job to represent, to the greatest of his abilities and given all of his limitations, the Paternal dad traits of Abba God.
This is a Spiritual father.
This is what a dad is.
Anything else is just a modification word to describe the location, source, or something else that is also true… but these descriptors do not make someone a good dad. They are meaningless without being the spiritual dad. Being “only” a spiritual dad (and doing it well) is what it means to be a dad. If a dad-person in our lives does this well, he is a good father/dad. If he does this poorly, then he is a bad one, because this, in the end, is the final judgment. This is the measuring stick. All of us are limited in our ability to pull this off, and circumstances can make it nearly impossible to do it at all, but this heart is the standard.
Something that exists for a second is not what defines us. It can describe us, but it cannot be a definer. Compared to eternity, our time is too short to define us. I am also coming to the understanding that without an eternal mindset, it may be impossible to grasp this.
I may be a biological dad, but someday that will not define me as a dad. I am a foster dad but someday I will not be defined by that. I am an adoptive dad, but that does not define me. Mentor-dad, friend-dad… I am not even sure how many descriptors there would be. These are wonderful and bless-ed descriptions and I love an embrace them all… but in the end, they are just descriptors. “Dad” means “Spiritual Dad”. In a perfect understanding, I think “Spiritual Dad” is redundant.
Those are only eternal because they are reflections of Abba – because they have a spiritual aspect to them. They were eternal concepts long from before I showed up. See? They are just modifiers of the Spiritual dad… spiritual dad is what dad is.
If I am seeking to be a good representation of The Abba Father, then I am striving to be a good dad. The measure of how good a foster dad I am is based on the task of representing The Father. Biological, mentoring, etc… it is the same.
Types of fathers
A type of Spiritual dad is the bio dad. Another one is the adoptive dad. Yet another one is a foster dad. There is no such thing as a “real” dad beyond a spiritual dad – that is what a real dad is, because in the essential sense, there is no dad on Earth (Matthew 23:9). If the only True Father is the Abba of scripture, then all of us are miniatures that are nearer or farther from the real one.
We all need, in the tiny sense, thousands of dads. We need policemen, mechanics, pastors, teachers and so many others to, in their few minutes or seconds of interaction, to represent God to us… To treat us with respect and care and strength.
We also need a few people to fill in the gaps of representing the Father/God too. Even though I have a good biological dad, no man could possibly fill in all of the paint-by-numbers that God’s dad traits that exist. It is great if our biological, adoptive dad, etc… is also one of our spiritual dads, but he may not be. Even if he is, we need many others to fill in those gaps that he leaves.
This can be scary for people for whom any dad/father/paternal reference is intuitively dangerous, unsafe, and/or abusive. Our intuition of the Heavenly Father will likely be our Earthly dad – the one who raised us. If he was abusive, we intuit that God is a monster; if he as neglectful or abandoned us, we intuit that God is far off and unemotional… weak, tyrannical, cold… etc.
I was able to name a bunch very quickly who have filled in many of these gaps. Some of these men only colored in one or two colors – others helped with a lot of them. These men have been dads in my life – representing (a couple of them without meaning to, since they were likely not believers) some aspect of God’s paternal traits. Relatives, coaches, teachers, pastors, ministers… the list was impressive to me. I might even list them somewhere for posterity’s sake.
Also, we never outgrow the role of spiritual dads, aka “dads”, in our lives. Dads can claim, approve, provide, challenge, and a lot more things, but they do so in the hopes of God’s best in our lives. I try to do this in such a way that it points people to the Abba. In the end, all of us as mortal men are poor representations, and so our greatest joy is to hear that our children are walking in the truth. (3 John 4).
I hope this article is an encouragement to dads out there – no matter what the modifier is for you… and I would not stress over the modifiers too much. They are temporal and even mercurial. Sons and daughters, look to the Abba Father for the truth and eternal picture and thank Him for the good fathers (and mothers) in your lives…and put aside the empty ways of life handed down by the poor fathers (and mothers) in preference for HIM.
Thanks to Mike Legg, Holland Legg, Brother Pete, Richard Suggs, Richard Hawthorne, Kent Pate, Neil McClendon, John Dowdy, Jeff, Coach Fash, Dr. Bourbon, Dr. Lee, Dr. Yaunt, Dr. Floyd, Peter Spear, Lanny Tanton, Newt Farrar, Bobby Hicks and others (I am not even going to try to include speakers and authors and I will still be leaving people out) for coloring in aspects of The Abba for me. I am blessed to have so many good representations of at least a trait or two of God… and typically many more traits. You have pointed me to Him. I look forward to risking with more as I find them.