How the Father Heals Shame

How the Father Heals Shame

How the Father Heals Shame. 

When Jesus instructs His followers to boldly pray “Our Father,” what kind of Father was He thinking of? What image of Father did Jesus want to communicate? If Jesus wanted His description of the Father to match up with His experience of the Father, wouldn’t it help us if Jesus defined what He meant by Father? If Jesus wants to unpack the Father for us, it’s time to drop whatever we’re doing and take heed. True to form, Jesus did leave us His picture of the Father by building on the Hebrew Bible and then expanding on OT Scripture in His words in the Gospel.

Father God in the Hebrew Bible. The term Father is used about a dozen times in the OT in connection with God, but only through comparisons and God’s self-descriptions. God is never directly addressed as Father, person-to-Person. Father was not used as a title in personally addressing God. Biblical scholar Kenneth Bailey said, “To say ‘You care for us like a father,’ or even ‘You are a father,’ is one thing. But to say, ‘Good morning, Father’ is quite different.” In addressing God as Abba, Jesus seemed to be building on those pieces of Scripture that implied a tender, compassionate, approachable God the Father. Scriptures like these:

  1. Even to old age and gray hairs I am He. I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (Isaiah 46:4).
  2. “You saw how the LORD your God cared for you all along the way as you traveled through the wilderness, just as a father cares for his child.” (Deut. 1:31).
  3. “When Israel was a child I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms. But they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? I can’t bear to even think such thoughts. My insides churn in protest. All my compassion is aroused. For I am God, and not human – the Holy One among you.” (Hosea 11:1-9, NIV and MSG).

The Old Testament clearly does not portray God the Father as simply cruel, indifferent, unforgiving, or overbearing. Jesus knew this truth intimately, and so He uses the words of the Hebrew Bible to help form His picture of His heavenly Father. Interestingly enough, Jesus expands on this in the context of a gospel story, a parable intended to teach a lesson to the Pharisees.

The Father in the Prodigal Story. It has been suggested that Jesus wanted to communicate the nature of His Father in this pivotal parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. Jesus here shares His own experience with Abba Father. He in  effect defined the meaning and substance of the Father in this parable. In Jesus’ mind, this is what His Father looks like. He in fact is redefining the inaccurate picture of the Father as an overbearing ogre full of power and authority, who loves to punish and threaten, who at times is distant and indifferent and other times a cruel taskmaster. Jesus paints a picture of the Father that contrasts with all that, a Father as Abba, a kind and forgiving God who wants what’s best for each person, a Father who genuinely cares for each person in the human family with an eternal love, who desires an intimate personal relationship with His children. Doesn’t Jesus’ picture of the Father here make you want to be His child? Consider the actions and attitude of the father in this parable:

  1. A father who didn’t take offense when personally rejected by his son and asked to split his inheritance before the father even dies;
  2. A father who patiently endured humiliation at having his own son waste his inheritance;
  3. A father who responded with compassion when his wayward son returns home penniless;
  4. A father who was actively waiting for his son to return, on a continual lookout for his defeated son, a father who seemed poised to show mercy;
  5. A father who publically degraded himself by running, which fathers aren’t supposed to do, to meet his son;
  6. A father who physically embraced his wastral son, saving him from the eventual village gauntlet;
  7. A father who continued to pour out grace and compassion by repeatedly kissing his renegade son. This is a reversal of the typical scenario in which the repentant son is expected to kiss the father’s hands or feet;
  8. A father who restores the prodigal son to full family status, giving him the father’s feasting robe, the family signet ring, and a pair of sandals that would distinguish the son from hired servants;
  9. A father who threw a huge village feast with a fatted calf, feeding at least 100 people. Instead of rejection, the father threw a celebration;
  10. A father who would absorb another public insult by leaving his post as the host at the feast in order to search for his ungrateful elder son;
  11. A father who patiently accepts the elder son’s unwarranted insult and bitter attitude.

This is how the Son pictures the Father. Who wouldn’t join His family?

Evidently, there was no room for shame in the Father’s love. In the Father’s love, the son who was ashamed of himself became the beloved who put shame to death. The son forgot the shame to the degree that he was able to, with a clear conscience, feast and party in the celebration held in his honor upon his return. As Dr. Curt Thompson mentioned in his excellent book The Soul of Shame, there is no room for shame in love. In this case, there is no room for shame while being loved by the Father. The pattern is clear for us… perfect love casts out fear, yes, but it also casts out shame.