As I mentioned in my last post, I have not always felt loved by God. I grew up with a father who had quite a temper—I was constantly afraid of him. Unknown to me, my relationship with my father superimposed itself on my view of God. I have spent much of my life trying to straighten out my warped theology.
I decided to be baptized at age 9, out of fear of God’s wrath. I had no problem believing that I deserved God’s punishment. I assumed that God was always mad at me, just like my father. I assumed that God was watching me, waiting for me to blow it so that he could punish me. I grew up with no mental concept of a loving father. From a young age, I ached to please both my heavenly and earthly fathers. I quickly evolved into an obsessive “people-pleaser,” exhibiting an insatiable desire for attention and approval.
My desire for approval has both haunted and motivated my entire life. As a missionary, I found myself working three full-time jobs simultaneously during my time in the DR Congo. Looking back, I now see what happened: I exhausted myself attempting to please my earthly and heavenly fathers. In fact, I came home from Africa on the verge of a nervous breakdown. My search for approval almost killed me.
I survived my transition back to the United States by slowly correcting my view of God. I became intrigued by the voice of God on two special occasions in Jesus’s life. At Jesus’s baptism, God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17). On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus heard those same words again: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 17:5). These words are a great model of what every child needs to hear from his or her father: You are my child. I love you. I am proud of you.
My theological distortions about my heavenly Father began to be corrected when I became a father myself. When my daughter Sarah was born, I cried out to God in desperation—I had never been a father before, and I knew that I was in over my head. We had flown to a small mission hospital a few days before Julie was to deliver, and I paced the hospital compound, asking God for help. One day, reading my Bible in that hospital, surrounded by hills, I read Psalm 121:1: “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?” It was a question straight from my own heart. Verse 2 answers: “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” I was so struck by these verses that I suggested to Julie that she repeat them over and over during labor and delivery—which she did. During this crisis in my life, God presented himself as a loving father, ready and willing to help me. Slowly, my perception of God began to change.
Question: Are you afraid God will punish you?
“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment”
1 John 4:18