If you can think of a family composition scenario, chances are it has happened to someone at some point in history. Some of us were raised by two parents. Some have only one parent. Interestingly though, few have no mother, but many have no father. In fact, not having a father while growing up is so common, many are surprised if you do have a father.
Problem with Absence
If you are raised without a father, the idea of having a father might either be considered inconsequential, or you might have that as your biggest regret and loss in life. I have spoken with a number of people who were raised with no father figure in their home. Not ever having had one, either good or bad, the importance of having a father was a foreign concept to them. And heaven forbid if they had a father, even for a short while, who was abusive or withdrawn. Those who had a bad experience with a father don’t trust men in general.
So what difference does all this make to us? Why should we be concerned about whether or not we had a father growing up? How does our view of men in general affect our spirituality and eternal progress? Now that is the million dollar question!
Where does faith fit in?
This life is all about our ability to develop a faith that becomes unshakable in God, our Father. If Satan, and conditions in mortality in general, can destroy our faith in men and their ability or desire to be good and decent people, it makes it very difficult for us to trust in a man (God) whom we have no memory of ever meeting. It makes his very existence suspect.
Take Sarah for example. Sarah, my fictitious friend was abandoned by her father when she was young. Her mother was angry, bitter, and resentful of his treatment of her and their children before he left, and she passed along many of those feelings to Sarah. Men can’t be trusted. Men will abandon you. Men are selfish, heartless, and can be cruel. The fact that this can be said of anyone who chooses to be that way seems to make no difference. This is the picture that has been painted in her heart about men.
Sarah has difficulty in her relationships with men, primarily because she doesn’t trust them. Their motives and behaviors are all suspect. This makes trusting a man enough to marry him and be happy in that relationship very difficult. And it isn’t just Sarah. Many men who were abandoned by their fathers, or simply never had one in their life, have the same kinds of problems with men. They might be able to date women and develop genuine feelings for them, but they have had no example set for them as to how they are supposed to behave toward their spouse. They may have their mother’s viewpoint, but may not have a trusted adviser from the male side of life.
My point is this, that we are expected to develop faith in our Father in Heaven in this life, but for many who have had no experience with a good man, that is a very difficult thing to do. It is a very difficult thing to teach them.
It doesn’t help that the scriptures can be easily misunderstood, leaving us with a view that our Father in Heaven, especially as represented in the Old Testament, is a cold, fickle, and sometimes capricious God. How often do we hear of God’s wrath, his vengeance, and the punishments he meets out. He rains down fire and brimstone on cities, floods the earth, causes disease and plague, famine and piles (hemorrhoids). He is classified as jealous, strict, and angry. If this is the view you were raised with, small wonder so many people aren’t too keen on the idea of getting closer to God.
Even when someone points out the examples of when widows and harlots were spared from destruction, the children raised from the dead, the blind healed, and the lame made to walk, how is that supposed to fit in with all the anger issues and stories of vengeance? Faith is about trust. How are we supposed to trust someone who is constantly, and apparently inconsistently, and randomly, hopping from one side of the trust fence to the other?
Faith is critical
Being able to develop faith in God is not an optional requirement. In order for us to become like God, which is our stated purpose in life, we must be able to learn to trust him implicitly. This means we must figure out how to get past our misconceptions about who and what kind of being our Father really is. After all, the scripture tells us, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.” (John 17:3) Until we come to understand the true nature of God, we will never have the ability to exercise the faith in him required to become like him.
In other articles I have stated that our Father is all about justice, for he cannot directly show us mercy. Mercy cannot rob the demands of his justice. To have both offered to us requires two people, one to set up and monitor all the laws, making sure justice is meeted out for both the good that is done and for the breaking of the laws (our Father), and the other to answer the demands of God’s eternal justice, allowing him to offer us a measure of mercy before the laws of justice have to be faced (Christ). These are the roles our Father in Heaven and Christ fulfill respectively. But even in being the great dispenser of justice, our Father in Heaven showed us mercy by offering us a Savior who could directly grant us mercy. So he is still a very merciful being. He does all that he does out of love, though in the recording of the events sometimes it doesn’t sound like he does. Enter faith/trust.
Father vs. the Son
The Prophet Joseph Smith said: “It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God” (Teachings, 345). When we come to not only know about God, but to understand how he feels about this or that principle or how he thinks and reasons through things then we will begin to understand the nature of God. We will, in fact, begin to come to know and understand ourselves, for we are his children. We are of the same eternal nature.
So why is it that we so often feel negative feelings towards our Father, but feel so warm and fuzzy about his Son? They are the same in nature, disposition, and loving qualities. The Son venerates the Father and worships him in all things. He is strictly obedient and even commands us to pray to our Father and worship him (the Father) only. Here are some verses from the New Testament where Jesus is talking about his relationship with our Father.
John 10:32, 37-38
32 Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me?
37 If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not.
38 But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works: that ye may know, and believe, that the Father is in me, and I in him.
The works Jesus did were the works of the Father. He even says that if he wasn’t doing the works of the Father then we have permission to not believe anything he says. He and the Father are one, meaning completely unified in what they do. This is why he says that “the Father is in me, and I in him.”
This next quote comes from John 15. Jesus is pointing out that just as the Father sent the Son, so the Son is sending out his disciples to warn the people. The Father and the Son are so unified, that to hate the Son is to hate the Father, and to reject the one is to reject the other. The same principle applies to the teachings and the works of the disciples as they go out among the people. If the people reject the words and works of the Lord’s servants then they have, in reality rejected both Christ and the Father.
20 Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.
21 But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me.
22 If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no cloak for their sin.
23 He that hateth me hateth my Father also.
24 If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.
25 But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause.
26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:
27 And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.
The principle of truth here is that because the people now know better, when they reject Christ’s words, whether by his own voice or that of his servants, they reject the Father’s words also. This means that the mercy Christ could have shown them will have to be replaced by the justice that will call for their punishment at the last day. Do you see that it is the Father’s mercy toward us that provided us with our Savior? His justice is only meeted out as the last recourse. The whole Godhead is devoted to the cause of redeeming us from eternal punishment for our sins. Our redemption and exaltation is their only goal. They are all united in this work.
This means that all those places in the scriptures where it appears that God is mean and vengeful are misinterpretations of what was really going on. If God is anything, he is consistent in all he does. He does not flip flop and randomly bless his children one minute then curse them for no good reason the next. That would make him changeable, and therefore not perfect (whole or complete). He would cease to be God.
So we can be assured that all God does is for our benefit. We are his work and his glory. The whole of the universe was created and is maintained for our benefit. We are his eternal increase, just as we are looking forward to the day we will have children for our eternal increase.
Trusting in God
Belief is a choice. We can choose to believe in something or choose to reject it. There is nothing in this universe that can force someone to believe in something they willfully reject to accept, no matter how obvious it is. Faith is a step beyond belief. Faith requires that we take that belief and using rational thought, practical experience, and love, we choose to act on whatever we have chosen to believe. We act in such a way that we commit ourselves to that belief as the absolute truth. This is the part about faith that takes practice.
In Alma 36 we are taught that if we will choose to believe just a tiny bit then act on that belief, God (our Father) will supply us with some evidence that what we chose to believe in was a correct principle. Then the ball is back in our court. We then have to choose to act on another, slightly more difficult principle. He in turn provides us with more evidence that we did not misplace our trust in his teachings. This ping pong game of faith is what we choose to engage in for the rest of our lives when we get baptized.
It is through this process that we learn line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little that God is truthful, honest, and completely trustworthy and dependable. The more we come to learn these lessons about him, the more we come to see that in the process we are becoming the same kind of person. This is what bonds us together. We begin to think like God, act like God, and feel like God. We are much his inferior, but we can make enough strides in that direction to cause us to be willing to put our very lives in his hands in all circumstances.
Mortal fathers vs. our Eternal Father
Satan has worked hard to discredit fathers in all generations. And sometimes I have to concede that we might be an easy target when it comes to being discredited. Most men are hardly praiseworthy when it comes to being truly noble. So many people have difficulty trusting in the concept of this all wise and loving man we call Heavenly Father. They haven’t ever known anything like him in this life. But that doesn’t mean that even those who have had very sad experiences with their earthly fathers can’t learn that our Heavenly Father is different.
True fatherhood comes through revelation only. The nature of what it means to be a father happens as we come to know and love our Father in Heaven. Christ keeps trying to point us to Him, our Father. We pray to our Father, and our Savior pleads with God to answer our prayers. We can indeed learn what it means to have a loving and trustworthy father, even if we never had one in mortality. What that requires is practicing the principle of faith, consistently praying and keeping the commandments. As we do these things the Spirit will reveal the greater and greater depths of God’s love and devotion to us. We will begin to see and feel just how committed he is to our success in this life and in the eternities.
Who we had or didn’t have as a mortal role model in mortality isn’t nearly so important as our identifying who our eternal Father is, and spending our lives in search of how our personal identity matches up with his. For you men reading this, it may be on the late side of life for you to go back and become a better father than you were. But it is never too late for each of us to come to appreciate who our Father in Heaven is and how much he truly loves us.