By Norris Burkes, June 20, 2021

This Father’s Day I must confess that I probably owe much of my appreciation for God to the two fathers I’ve known in my lifetime.

My biological father was a loving tall-Texan, a Southern Baptist pastor, who taught me to love people more than a fight. 

He lived long enough to see me through graduate school, coach me through my first two pastorates, and meet his grandchildren. I experienced him as a fair-minded, caring father who made it natural for me to worship “God the Father.”

I inherited my second dad. He was the “pastor-dad” of the girl I married, and he had love big enough for the both of us.

When I first met my father-in-law, Wilbur, he extended his hand and his heart as he explained, “Any friend of Rebecca’s will be a friend of mine.” He’s never wavered in his promise.

He’s my mentor and my friend. He even has editorial say in this column.

At 88, his youthful handsomeness is still apparent. Although he stands slightly shorter now than his original 5-foot-10, he still combs a mostly full head of hair.

In 1992, my pride over having two doting fathers and grandfathers was shattered when my dad died unexpectedly at 65. 

Not long after the funeral, my father-in-law, Wilbur, wrote to say, “I want you to know that I could never replace your dad, but I’m here to stand in his place wherever you’ll allow.”

A few days later, I accepted his offer to become the father I so desperately needed, an “earthly foster father.” I’ve never regretted my decision.

I tell this story because the image you carry of your father may likely affect the way you see God. 

If you’ve had an abusive parent, then maybe you don’t appreciate God as a father. We know of course that God is not a biological male or female. God is all – everything at the same time.

Yes, the Bible overwhelmingly speaks of God in male terms, but many scholars read the God-language of the Bible as metaphorical. 

For instance, in Isaiah 49, God has the feminine qualities of a nursing mother. Then in both Psalm 91 and Matthew 23, God becomes a hen gathering her brood of chicks under her wings.

These writings are welcome images to people who were reared without a father, or worse, an abusive one. They’ve also been adopted by women who are recovering from complementarianism, the concept of women being subservient to men. 

But for me, I had double the fathers and double the love. Since both fathers addressed God as Jesus did, praying to “Abba, Father,” I’ll continue to experience God as “He.” 

However, if your image of God isn’t inspired by the type of loving fathers I enjoyed, then you might consider how Phil Young reimagined God in his 2007 best-selling novel, The Shack. Young portrays God temporarily as a mysterious African American woman who called herself Papa who seeks to comfort the protagonist who’d grown up with an abusive father.

When the character questions why God is a woman, she replies: “After what you’ve been through, “I didn’t think you could handle a father right now.”

It’s a comforting, loving story of how God may disguise himself to care for us and will reveal to us the image of God that is most supportive to our spiritual wellbeing. 

Best of all, the story shows us that our pronouns for God needn’t be confusing or conflictual. My prayer for you this Father’s Day is that God will reveal to you the spiritual image of himself that you need and be the Father you never had, but always wanted.

Norris’ books are available at Contact him at or 10556 Combie Rd. Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail (843) 608-9715. Twitter @chaplain.

Sources for this column