on a mission to embody grace and compassion in all relationships

Forgiving Father

This is the sixth in a series on My Faith Journey, and #26 in the series Lessons from My Father.

One image of God I had growing up was to understand God as a loving and forgiving Father.

It was easier for me to imagine God this way because I had a father with those characteristics in my life.  My father paid attention to me, told me regularly that he loved me, and constantly showed up when I needed him most. It would only be later in my life that I would realize that many people did not have this kind of relationship with their father.

Lewis Marler made it easier for me to understand God by the way he loved me, forgave me, disciplined me, and guided me.

Here’s a story to illustrate.

I was about seven years old and I knew I was in trouble one day because my mother said, “Wait until your father gets home,” which was not a good thing.  It wasn’t long before I heard her giving him the scoop after he got home from work.  He came into my room and asked me if it was true what I had done.  I nodded yes as I sniffled.

And then he spanked me with his hand. In the 60’s, spanking a child was a normal thing.  He connected two or three times as I jumped around and cried like crazy.  He instructed me to stay in my room until I could come out and apologize for what I had done.

A few minutes later, I walked into the den and before I could get the words out of my mouth he asked me to come stand beside him.  He said, “Malcolm, what do you have to say?”  I squeaked, “I’m sorry.”

“Then I forgive you,” he responded warmly.

He drew me close to him with a hug and said, “I want you to know that I am sorry for spanking you today.”

I looked at him surprised and he added, “I had a hard day at work today and I think I was more frustrated with work than I was  angry with you.  I think I punished you more than you deserved.  I am sorry.  Sometimes I make mistakes too. Will you forgive me?”  I nodded yes and hugged him tighter.

And that was one of the days I learned about forgiveness in my faith journey.  If my parent could ask me for forgiveness, I could do the same.  He modeled forgiveness, offering and asking.  A loving relationship was the result.

So I ask you my reader and friend.  What kind of images did you have of God growing up?  I’d love to hear in the comments section below.



  1. Sandy

    I don’t think I had any real images of God as a child, which is probably why I had such a hard time when I really started asking lots of questions and trying to sort out the “personal relationship with God” thing when I was about 11 or 12. Somewhere around the middle of high school, I started finding some comfort in the image of Aslan (or lions in general) as my tangible image of both strength, power, and comfort that I had come to understand God to be. And although I didn’t have any specific images of God as Father that were important to me, that idea of relationship and connection did help me find some comfort in the idea of Jesus as a big brother.

  2. Malcolm

    Sandy, thanks so much for your comments. I find your image of God as Aslan (lion) as a great metaphor for strength, power, and comfort. I always appreciate your sharing on my blog. You add a lot each time you do. Thank you.

  3. Trey

    Growing up, I was scared of God. My image of him was authoritarian. More specifically, I always felt like He was watching me and judging me. Funny enough, I was also scared of my dad growing up. When I was twelve he finally went into rehab and came out a more loving and caring man. But some damage had already been done. I was well into my twenties before our relationship healed. And that healing revolved around forgiveness. Thanks for posting, Malcolm.

  4. Eleanor stoneham

    Not quite addressing the question but there is a really good little book you may enjoy called The Lost Art of Forgiving – Stories of healing from the cancer of bitterness, by Johann Christoph Arnold. He writes movingly through a collection of real life stories of the healing power of forgiveness – “he lets the lives and voices of those who have forgiven, and those who havn’t, speak for themselves.

  5. Malcolm

    Trey, thanks for shafting about your experience. I think our experience with parents really does impact our understanding of God, both positively and negatively. And maybe part of our growth is to work through that as adults. Thanks again.

  6. Malcolm

    Eleanor, thanks for sharing about this book for me and our readers. I appreciate it. Take care.

  7. Ann McGraw

    I LOVE to read about your father and your relationship because it so closely mirrors my father and my relationship with him. (He died 21 years ago.) Because you are such a skilled writer, you give voice to some of my deepest feelings about my dad. Thank you!

  8. Stephanie

    My dad didn’t teach me forgiveness by example. But he provided the reason to learn forgiveness. My dad abused me when I was a child. It’s a hard place to be when you both love and hate someone at the same time. It’s like a never-ending tug of war (emphasis on war). I had to learn forgiveness to release my hate for him. Not to excuse what he did. But so that I could have peace.

    The image of God as Father has been painful for me. It’s unfortunate that the Baptist-Land I was in most of my life doesn’t allow for a personal view of God other than Father. My heart breaks for those people wounded by their fathers (and even mothers) who have yet to find their way out of that theology.

  9. Malcolm

    Stephanie, you are not alone in your experience with a father who abused you. I have heard from many persons through the years who have struggled to find other more positive metaphors for God’s presence in their lives because of that experience.

    Are there other metaphors or images that provide a more personal, positive image for you?

  10. Stephanie

    M–As for positive images of God–for some time I focused on Jesus as a genderless friend and source of wisdom and love. These days I’m focusing on God as Creator of all and indwelling source of life and love in all people.

  11. Malcolm

    Stephanie, I like the image of God as Creator all and especially your words of “indwelling source of life and love in all people.” Beautiful.

    Thanks for letting me know,

  12. Jeff

    What is your God-image today?

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