Throughout the Bible, God is called “Father.” This is not any sort of slight to mothers, for God is spirit. He is not a human man and He is both infinite and perfect, therefore He exhibits the traits of both parents perfectly. Rather, any trait we consider “good parenting” is defined by who God is as Father. The very fact there are two parents actually points to God’s complete perfection because it takes two complementary image bearers to show even a vestige of these aspects of His character. For clarity, though, since Scripture calls Him “Father” we should too.
God’s Actions as Father
Consider the following verses with me and what they reveal about how God acts as our Father.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
God is an adopter, making those who are not family into sons and daughters, fellow heirs with THE Son of God. He is a lavish Father who loves in a deep and costly way to give life and a future to those who otherwise would not have it.
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
We see God the Father publicly blessing and praising Jesus as He begins His earthly ministry. God the Father is affirming, encouraging, and empowering to His son. And He makes known who the Son is and how others ought to view Him. He honors His son and gives identity, dignity, and power to Him at a pivotal time of His life and ministry.
What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
God is generous. But more than being generous, He is the giver of good gifts, perfect gifts. He gives those gifts that give eternal life, not just those that feel good. He is not a spoiling, doting Father who can’t say “no” to His children but rather a wise and timely Father who gives the precise gifts His children need to draw them closer to Him.
Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven...”
The Son of God teaches us how to talk to him in the verse and the following. This means God desires us to speak with Him; He is a communicative and relational Father. It means when we talk to Him, we can do so in all the ways this prayer reflects — praise, requests, needs, hope, and simplicity. We can say what we love and what we hope for and what we need, so long as we do so with recognition of who God is as King and Lord. And it means when can have confidence because Jesus both permitted and commanded us to talk to our Father this way, just like He did.
God’s Character as Father
Now consider these verses about God’s character as a Father, not just what He does but how He thinks and feels toward His children.
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.
Psalm 103:8-10, 13
God is not a hot-tempered, impatient Father. He is not irritable. He is not unapproachable. He is merciful, giving us kindness when we do not deserve it. He does not ride our back and get all over our cases about every little failure. He doesn’t hold grudges. He is compassionate, showing tenderness and warmth toward His children. This does not mean God is a pushover (as we’ll see in coming verses); He takes sin and disobedience very seriously, as should every good parent. But He does not destroy His sinful children. He shows mercy, and it was shown most clearly through the sending of Jesus to die on our behalf — this is what the psalm ultimately means when it says “He does not deal with us according to our sins.” He dealt with Jesus according to our sins so that we could be adopted as heirs and receive His fatherly love.
My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father, the son he delights in.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.
God is merciful, but God is Holy and Just. He cannot and will not tolerate sin. He cannot and will not let His children wallow in mediocrity. As children of God, we are part of a family and that means we have the family name to uphold and the family standards to live up to, and God disciplines us toward that end. It is not punitive, it is corrective. He brings painful and uncomfortable things into our lives in order to grow us in holiness and growing in holiness ultimately increases our capacity for happiness too. He wants our best, and our best is to be like He is, so he moves us that way by any means necessary.
And that should be the goal of every parent, to move our children toward holiness. These verses reveal a portion of who God is as a perfect parent, and they give context to commands like “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger” (Ephesians 6:4) and “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” (Proverbs 13:4). They give the profound reason for commands like “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6) and “You shall teach [these commands] to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
God’s fatherhood is more than our model for parenting, it is our means of being a good parent. Only being a child of God can we have the Spirit of God and only in the Spirit of God can we hope to parent our children toward holiness and true happiness. This is what we are called to and what God has made a way for us to do.