Children of Divorce, Earthly Fathers and the Image of God – Part 1

Wayne Stocks —  In 6/50 Window, Spiritual impacts February 11, 2013

Editor’s Note: This week we will be looking at how divorce impacts a child’s view of God based on their relationship with their earthly father.  Check back in Wednesday for the conclusion of this important article and a pdf file containing both parts.

Over the last month or so, we have published a number of articles about the 6/50 Window. The 6/50 Window is a new name for an existing mission field for the Church represents the number of children of divorce who eventually end up as born again Christians with a biblical worldview (6%) as compared to the total number of children who will witness the dissolution of their parents’ marriage / relationship (50%). In order to understand 6/50 Window though, we need to have some appreciate for how divorce impacts a child’s spiritual journey. Today, we will look at the dynamic between a child and their earthly father and how that impacts their view of God. Obviously, this can have a substantial impact on a child’s faith journey.

God the Father

The father image of God is pervasive in scripture. Indeed, the Holy Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. The Bible refers to God as Father over 250 times (primarily in the New Testament). The image of God as a personal father to those who put their faith in Jesus Christ is clear. Here is just a sampling of some of the many verses describing God as Father:

There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 ESV)

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7 ESV)

…for you have one Father, who is in heaven. (Matthew 23:9b ESV)

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Matthew 6:9 ESV)

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6 ESV)

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7 ESV)

The Image of God and Our Earthly Fathers

Indeed, I know that it my own life, my understanding of the character and image of God has been greatly increased based on my own experience as a father. We get a glimpse of the love and mercy and grace of God as we relate to our own kids as fathers. The opposite is also true. We formulate our view of God, at least to some extent, based on our relationship with our own father. Numerous studies bear this out. If our own fathers were loving and caring, we (at least initially) attribute the same characteristics to God. If our father was cold and distant, we have to overcome that view in understanding the true attributes of God.

This image transference is common to all of us, but imagine if you will what it must be like for a child of divorce. If your history includes a father who cheated on your mother and eventually left the marriage, how will that impact your view of God? If your childhood was marked by a Father who walked away from his family, what does that do to your trust in God in the Father? If you had a “Disney Dad” who spent four days a month buying you things and letting you get away with murder so that you would “still love him,” how does that impact your view of a God of Justice?

Fatherlessness and Children of Divorce

The instance of children of divorce not having a relationship with their fathers is epidemic. One study showed that by the time children of divorce are between the ages of 12 and 16, fewer than 50% of kids living with separated, divorced, or remarried mother had even seen their father in more than a year, and only about one in six saw their fathers once a week. Another study showed that 56% of all divorced children had no contact whatsoever with their fathers in the first year after divorce. Even in those instances where the father does not entirely abandon the children, studies show that many children of divorce end up with a much more distant relationship with their non-custodial parent.

As we work with children of divorce, we must keep in mind that they do not come to the “idea of God” with a clean slate. Oftentimes, embracing the God of the Bible will mean having to overcome a view of father that has been severely altered by their relationship with their earthly father. Things that we might take for granted like, “you have a Heavenly Father who loves you unconditionally” may be hard for a child of divorce to accept and embrace.

Come back Wednesday for some first hand accounts from Children of Divorce and advice on how we can help these kids to overcome their distorted views of God the Father.