Do we dare?

But God is the Father of mercies

2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort.

John 14:8-10 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father.” … Jesus replied, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. … My Father, who lives in me, does his work through me.”

I just finished reading a novel called The Abstainer by Ian McGuire, which takes place in the aftermath of the 1867 public hangings in Manchester, England of three Irish traitors or martyrs, depending on one’s point of view. As I got to know the main characters, I saw that each one was deeply influenced by the way they had been treated by their fathers, for good or for ill. Mostly for ill.

The word “Father” is never neutral. It evokes emotion: joy or sadness, anger or gratitude, pride or disgust, warmth or fear, guilt or confidence. Or a complex combination of many of these. Isn’t that true?

And for many of us, calling God our Father is equally complex. I remember one victim of abuse in Brazil literally threw up when in a support group we touched on the topic of God as our good Father. We automatically attribute to God our experiences with our human fathers. This woman needed profound healing before she was able to even consider the words “Father” and “good” in the same sentence.

So I’m intrigued by Dane Ortlund’s treatment of God as the Father of mercies in chapter 14 of his wonderful book Gentle and Lowly, The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers. Ortlund says the label “Father of mercies” takes us into the deepest recesses of God’s loving, compassionate heart. He quotes these words by Thomas Goodwin, a Puritan writer in the 17th century:

“God has a multitude of al kinds of mercies. … There is no sin or misery butGod has a mercy for it. … If your heart be hard, his mercies are tender. If your heart be dead, he has mercy to liven it. If you be sick, he has mercy to heal you. If you be sinful, he has mercies to sanctify and cleanse you. As large and as various as are our wants, so large and various are his mercies. So we may come boldly to find grace and mercy to help us in time of need a mercy suited to all the variety of the diseases of the soul. He is the spring of all mercy” (Ortlund p. 131).

And Ortlund continues, “Some of us had great dads growing up. Others of us were horribly mistreated or abandoned by them. Whatever the case, the good in our earthly dads is a faint pointer to the true goodness of our heavenly Father, and the bad in our earthly dads is the photo negative of who our heavenly Father is. He is the Father of whom every human father is a shadow. … Your gentlest treatment of yourself is less gentle than the way your heavenly Father handles you. His tenderness toward you outstrips what you are even capable of toward yourself” (pp. 132-133).

As we dare to connect our hearts with the Father’s heart this Lent, we will taste his mercy and compassion. We will find grace. His tenderness will heal us.

“Dare to stay with your pain. Make your pain available for God’s healing. The pain you suffer now is meant to put you in touch with the place where you most need healing, your very heart” (Henri Nouwen, The Inner Voice of Love, pp. 47-48).

 The Father himself loves you dearly (John 16:27).

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