I can assure you from personal experience that grocery shopping as a father is not for the faint of heart. So many things require attention. I try to keep my daughter entertained, but still safe. I try to shop by a list, but be sensitive to sales. I have to protect the groceries too, because I have a crippling fear of crushed fruit. (I have fruit related grocery issues. Even more on that some other time.) I have to go slowly enough to shop effectively, but quickly enough that the trip doesn’t interfere with the rest of the day’s schedule. And I have to do all of this while remaining ready to defend my daughter from wolves, pirates, and other possible attackers.
I invariably neglect something critical. Maybe I don’t take along the diaper bag or the grocery list. Maybe I forget to buy an essential–milk, diapers, soda–or I forget which of the thousand varieties I’m supposed to find. Maybe I overlook an obvious concern like my daughter’s naptime or her ability to throw yogurt cups at cars. Every time I go, I try to be diligent. Every time I go, I fail.
It’s always disappointing too. I like to think that I’m getting better at this whole “dad” business, but I suspect that the evidence is not in my favor. However, as many troubles as I might have, one thing remains: I do want to be good at the “dad” business.
Thus it’s interesting to me that, when Jesus is unpacking the idea of God the Father, he references his audience’s experience as fathers rather than with fathers (Matthew 7; Luke 11).
Everybody has a father, so everybody has some experience with a father (even if that experience is one of complete and utter absence). Even more, we’ve all probably had experience with other people’s fathers. Experience with fathers might seem like a more fruitful point of comparison because, at least on some level, everyone can understand it.
On the other hand, experience as a father is somewhat exclusive. Only half of the world’s people can do it at all, and some haven’t yet while others never will. We’re not exactly an elite group like the marines, but we are few. At least relative to the number of people who have fathers.
So why explain God the Father in terms of fatherhood experience rather than merely fathered experience? I can only guess, but I like to think that my guess at least touches a part of the bigger picture.
The moment I saw my daughter for the first time, something in me exploded, but in a good way. I’m a pretty goofy, sheepish fellow, but in that moment I would have fended off a hundred people if I needed to, just to keep my daughter safe. I knew right away that there wasn’t anything I wouldn’t give for her, or any danger I wouldn’t face for her. In short, I knew “dad” business.
I’d heard people describe it, sort of like how I’m describing it now, but I really couldn’t possibly have fathomed it until I experienced it myself. I became a bit like the giant green superhero. Normally, I’m just me, but lurking in me, should my daughter need him, is her father, who is much more unstoppable than me.
Don’t get me wrong, since then I’ve encountered a litany of things that I haven’t successfully given and haven’t successfully faced for her. I’m not perfect. No father in the world is. In fact, if you want to play a disappointing game, try to find someone in the Bible (not God though) who’s commended for being even just a good father. Usually, if a man’s fathering is mentioned, it’s because he did it so badly that this children became monsters.
But no matter how much I fail at it, I know “dad” business now. I know what I’m failing at because I know what I want to look like. I think, if someone were to gather the best and worst fathers from every culture around the world, they might disagree about the specific methods and they might argue about how well they succeeded or failed, but they would all understand the “dad” business of which I speak so inarticulately.
I think that’s why Jesus spoke to fathers about the Father. It was almost as though he was saying, “You know that special dad business that you’re supposed to do but always struggle with, God doesn’t struggle with it and always does it, so you can trust him.”