The Love of the Father

God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. Ephesians 1:5

Growing up, I never gave my birthfather a thought. Oh, on occasion I did think fleetingly (and dismissively) of the faceless high-school kid and his girlfriend who made a mistake. As it turned out, I was quite wrong about that. He was a jazz musician, well out of school, and my mother was a practicing registered nurse spending a sabbatical in Europe as she recovered from tuberculosis.

Neither was my birthfather faceless. I’m his spitting image. But no matter. I didn’t think about him.

Conversely, I thought often about my birthmother—not obsessively, but with a dull simmering ache that’s difficult to put words to. Deep down I knew she must have felt abandoned. It’s the rare woman who wants to give up her baby. Unfortunately, avoiding responsibility is all too common. On that score, I was spot on.

But I’m okay with that. And a huge reason—perhaps the biggest—is that I had a dad. One of the best.

Dad was a World War II veteran, an adventurer who loved long hikes in the woods—preferably somewhere we’d never been before. He was a great storyteller who was never the hero of his own stories. In fact, he often told on himself, like his account of the first time he saw combat. As the first hostile rounds fell around them, he and his fellow .50-cal gunner leaped out of their halftrack and high-tailed it into the Belgian woods. That might be one reason why his stories were so good. They had the ring of authenticity to them, except for the tales he was obviously making up on the spot. He was good at that too. Even in his old age he could keep video-game addicted preteens spellbound with his stories.

Dad met Mom at Moody Bible Institute after the war. Upon graduation they got married, then served as missionaries in Africa for sixteen years. Some of Dad’s old Ghanaian students, themselves now aging pastors, still keep in touch with me out of love for my parents.

We may not have shared DNA, but it was Dad who instilled a love for poetry and literature in me. He fed my sense of adventure and fueled my need to take the occasional risk simply for the inevitable surge of adrenaline. And Dad bequeathed to me his sense of humor in any circumstance. He was unflappable, no doubt because of his deep confidence in God. I loved him for all of it.

Most of all, Dad loved people. He could talk to anyone. Sooner or later, he’d bring the conversation around to the things that truly matter. And ultimately, what truly matters is that we have a Father whose heart is wrapped up in our wholeness and well-being.

Dad showed me glimpses of what that Father is like. In my teen years and early twenties, after Dad had become a pastor in the US, I did my share of rebelling. That’s a story all its own, but Dad never turned his back on me. One Sunday morning when I was twenty, I uncharacteristically got up early enough to drive my rusty Ford Pinto across town to visit the church he had recently started pastoring. When he saw me, he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, peel the smile off his face.

“This is my son!” he declared to everyone who came in, grinning with his arm around me. Years later, when my life was going the right direction, a woman in his church told me, “He’s bursting his buttons over you!” The love of a father, no matter what you’ve been through. I can think of no greater human gift.

Over the years, society has come a long way in how it treats adopted children. We do indeed enjoy a place of privilege. But people sometimes say well-meaning things that aren’t entirely accurate. For instance, “Your parents loved you even more, because they chose you.”

That romanticizes it somewhat, but yes, they made the choice to take a literal orphan into their home. And that can’t be underestimated. God uses the picture of adoption in describing what he does for us.

In the writings of the apostle Paul, we see the concept of adoption several times. It’s paired with the related notion of God choosing us. Jesus himself told the disciples, “You did not choose me. I chose you” (John 15:16). We are called—chosen—by God. And he delights in us!

Paul wrote, “Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure” (Ephesians 1:5).

To the generation Paul was addressing, adoption meant a complete severing of the old family ties and the taking on of the new. That is exactly what happened with me. I bear the name Gustafson, as do all my children. My parents bequeathed to my brother and me everything that they had. We were, and are, thoroughly Gustafson. Not by birth. By adoption. It is a beautiful picture of what we have in Christ.

Paul goes on, “Because we are united with Christ, we have received an inheritance from God, for he chose us in advance, and he makes everything work out according to his plan” (Ephesians 1:11).

A crucial part of God’s plan is the gift of the Holy Spirit, who dwells in everyone who believes in Jesus. Paul adds, “When you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him” (vv. 13–14).

Through God’s adoption of us, even the fatherless among us lose our status as orphans. We gain the love of the Father.

Questions:

Does the concept of father strike you more positively or negatively? Why?

If you didn’t have a good father, or a father who was present, who did you most see as a father-figure? Did this help or hurt you in your understanding of God as your Father?

How does the metaphor of adoption help you in your comprehension of what God does for us?

What experiences have informed your opinion?

How might it help you to think of God as your adoptive Father?