God Distorted: How Your Earthly Father Affects Your Perception of God and Why It Matters

God Distorted: How Your Earthly Father Affects Your Perception of God and Why It Matters

by John Bishop

ISBN: 9781601424853

Publisher Multnomah Books

Published in Christian Books & Bibles/Christian Living, Christian Books & Bibles/Bible Study & Reference, Christian Books & Bibles/Theology, Parenting & Relationships, Christian Books & Bibles, Religion & Spirituality

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Book Description

Regardless of the type of father you grew up with—or without—it is likely that your view of God is influenced by the relationship you had with your father. Author John Bishop wants to help you discover that God is not just like your dad. Instead, God is a father who is:

• always there

• up close and personal

• fully pleased

• in complete control

• completely safe

Filled with biblical insight and practical tools for reflection, healing, and restoration, God Distorted will enable you to break free from the lies of the enemy and see your heavenly Father as He truly is.

Sample Chapter

Image Distorted

"The most dangerous untruths are truths slightly distorted" Georg C. Lichtenberg

As a child I often imagined what it would be like to be raised by the perfect dad. He would be always encouraging, always there, always patient, always trying to make me laugh, and be with me when I cried. I imagined a dad who believed in and supported my dreams and was my biggest cheerleader. When I got hurt, he would be the first person I’d go to for comfort and guidance. He would never be too busy, but would always be available to say just the right thing at just the right time. He would be a dad I could trust 100 percent.

I remember watching different dads on television shows, like Andy Taylor giving great advice to his son Opie on The Andy Griffith Show. Then there was Cliff Huxtable on The Cosby Show—arguably the most popular TV dad—who was played by Bill Cosby in the ’80s and ’90s. How could you not love Cliff Huxtable? He was so funny and his family seemed to be perfect. He was a doctor, his wife was a lawyer, but still family was the most important thing. Cliff was the kind of dad that anyone would want. He was perfect.

But Andy and Cliff aren’t real. Writers made them up. I never had a dad like that. I’m betting you probably didn’t either.

Real Dads

If you were to describe what a real dad is like—or more importantly what your own dad was really like—chances are he would bear little resemblance to Cliff (unless you were really fortunate!). Cliff is more make-believe than believable, more heavenly than human.

Our perceptions of what a father is really like are colored by our experiences. Some of us might describe our dad as demanding, or abusive, or distracted. Some might say he was controlling or impossible to please. Some of us didn’t even have a father in the house. But thankfully a few lucky ones would describe Dad as a kind, caring, loving man.

No matter what was normal in your house, there are some reasonable expectations of what a father is—or should be. I think we can safely say he’s a male parent. He might not be a birth-parent; rather he might be a stepfather or an adoptive father or some other male figure who is in some way responsible for your care.

A dictionary might define a father as simply a man who provides and protects. Yet in reality he is so much more. What the dictionary cannot possibly explain is the emotional impact a father has on a child. According to sociologist Dr. David Popenoe, “Fathers are far more than just ‘second adults’ in the home.” He says, “Involved fathers bring positive benefits to their children that no other person is as likely to bring.”1

A father is not just a sperm donor or a physical provider; he is the one who speaks significance into our lives. He teaches us to love and how to treat people right. He affirms our existence and helps us grow toward our potential. Or at least that’s the way it should be.

I know people who have incredibly blessed relationships with their fathers. But sadly, in my experience, they are the minority. Mostly I hear stories of people who feel abandoned, devalued, criticized, and unable to measure up. I have heard stories of horrible abuse, and of dads who were there but never really “there.” Yet, as important as a dad is, many children in America and throughout western civilization are living without a father, or bear the scars of an abusive, demanding, uninvolved father. The statistics are frightening:

~63% of youth suicide victims are from fatherless homes.

~90% percent of all homeless and runaway children are from fatherless homes.

~80% of rapists with anger problems come from fatherless homes.

~71% of all high school dropouts come from fatherless homes.

~Children living in two-parent households with a poor relationship with their father are 68% more likely to smoke, drink, or use drugs compared to all teens in two-parent households.

~Children with Fathers who are involved are 40% less likely to repeat a grade in school.

~Adolescent girls raised in a 2 parent home with involved Fathers are significantly less likely to be sexually active than girls raised without involved Fathers.2

These statistics point to this being an epidemic rather than just a problem, and they cannot be ignored. No group of people is immune to the effects—not the church or even the White House. In a recent online article titled “Why Do So Many Politicians Have Daddy Issues?” author Barron YoungSmith makes an interesting point about the correlation between politicians and dysfunctional fathers:

American politics is overflowing with stories of absent fathers, alcoholic fathers, neglectful fathers, and untimely deceased ones. Indeed, one of the more interesting questions raised by (Paul) Ryan’s biography is: Why do so many of our politicians have daddy issues?

The list is surprisingly long. Take Ronald Reagan, who was haunted by a moment when he discovered his alcoholic father on the front porch “drunk, dead to the world,” his hair filled with snow. The 11-year-old Reagan had to drag him indoors. Or Bill Clinton, whose biological father drowned in a car crash, and who remembered standing up to his alcoholic stepfather and demanding that he never beat Clinton’s mother again. Gerald Ford’s father, an alcoholic, was found guilty of extreme cruelty to his family, and refused to pay child support when Ford’s mother left him. George W. Bush’s relationship with his father was less lurid, but infamously resentful: He spent his entire life, including his presidency, careening between attempts to live up to H.W.’s impossible expectations and efforts to garishly repudiate them. And it hardly bears recounting that President Obama built his political persona around a search for his absent dad.

The author proposes a number of reasons why such a childhood would propel a man into politics. Some may have developed a high sensitivity to the emotions of others and have strong coping mechanisms, while other have probably had to take on a leadership role very early in life. He finishes with this thought:

Of course, there is the hunger for attention and the gaping psychological need to be loved. It’s often been observed that electoral politics is so demanding and unpleasant that no normal person would endure the indignities required to become a successful politician. In that sense, anyone who is willing to fundraise, glad-hand, and defend their smallest gaffes for months must derive some additional psychological benefit from politicking. Many of the people willing to keep going must be, in some sense, broken inside and driven to salve their emotional pain by courting the adulation of voters.3

Father Effects

Good or bad, present or passive, Dad defines us. He shapes what we become, how we think, how we act, how we feel about ourselves, and how we respond to others. Our first emotions and feelings are formed so much by his words.

Your relationship with your own father defines you far more than you even realize. It shapes you in almost every conceivable way—how you treat people, how you handle money, how you treat your children or spouse, and even how you view yourself.

In the book Transformation of a Man’s Heart, contributor Gordon Dalbey states, “When a man abdicates his calling as a father, the world suffers the effects. The father not only defines a boy’s past … but also stands at the gateway to his destiny.” Dalbey goes on to tell this story:

Julian Lennon, son of the late Beatles pop idol John Lennon, is a classic example. In his early twenties, Julian made his musical debut with a best-selling album. Then, to everyone’s shock, he suddenly stopped recording altogether. Seven years later, when he finally released a second album, he talked with a reporter about struggling to find his calling.

Julian’s mother and father had divorced when he was five, and after that he saw his father, John, perhaps a dozen times. “He walked out the bloody door and was never around,” Julian snapped. “I’d admire him on TV—listen to his words and opinions. But for someone who was praised for peace and love and wasn’t able to keep that at home, that’s hypocrisy.”

As the reporter notes, “Julian became a self-taught musician. His father never gave him a music lesson.” In the son’s words, “We sat down once and maybe he played five chords—that was that. . . . The only thing he ever taught me was how not to be a father.” His hate for his father blinded Julian Lennon to his own calling, and the world suffered the loss of his talent for seven years. 4

Thinking about Father God

The ways your father behaved toward you—what he said to you, how he treated you, everything he did and didn’t do—had an impact on you in some way. Depending on how you were treated, mistreated, or just plain ignored, you have come up with your own ideas of what a father is like. Because of this, I am quite certain that how you see and perceive your heavenly Father, God, has also been impacted—distorted even—by your relationships with your earthly dad.

When I became a Christ-follower, I struggled a bit with the trinity. Mind you, I had no issues with Jesus or the Holy Spirit, but I struggled to see God as “Father.” Having only my personal experience as a reference point, I wondered if God would be like a bigger version of my dad. Would He leave me when I failed? Punish me for not measuring up? For years I wrestled with the concept of God as Father.

Then sometime later I read a quote from the brilliant theologian A.W. Tozer that literally changed my life. He said, “What comes into your mind when you think about God is the most important thing about you.”5Why? Because how we see God determines how we relate to God, and how we relate to God determines everything else about us. After hearing those words, and determining them to be true, I realized I would never become all I was intended to be until I could see God for who He is, not who I imagined him to be.

Stop here for a minute. Try it—think about God right now. What comes into your mind? What feelings or images come to you? What does He “look” like to you? How do you think He feels about you? Be honest here—don’t give some churchy answer that you think you’re supposed to give if that’s not what you really feel deep inside.

So now let me ask, when you think of your earthly father, what is the first thing that comes into your mind? Provider? Teacher? Generous? Funny? Or, perhaps like me, you think of abandonment, abuse, or neglect? Maybe you think passive or uninterested? Controlling and judgmental? Some of you will be thinking of a dad who expected more than you could ever give or more than you could ever be. I have friends—successful businessmen and church leaders—who to this day are still trying to please that kind of father. Perhaps your father loved you, but never disciplined you. Or maybe your dad was loving and amazing!

Regardless of your answer, I think that whatever comes to mind when you think about your father, there is a good chance that you attribute similar characteristics to your image of your heavenly Father. Simply put, your image of God has been formed and shaped by the father figures in your life, as explained by mental health nurse Juanita Ryan:

Long before we were old enough to think in words, we thought in pictures or images. These images are loaded with emotion. From the first days of life we began storing memories of our emotional experiences. Images of our mother’s face when she was distressed and when she was pleased, or of our father’s face when he was angry or when he was laughing – all are stored in our memory. These images became linked with the soothing we felt or with the increased fear we felt in interacting with these important faces and voices. All of our experiences, from our earliest days, have been stored in our minds, some of them as emotionally laden images. These emotionally laden images of parents or of other early caretakers form the basic foundation of our expectations in relationships with all other people, including God.6

So many of us have drawn a picture of Dad in our minds, and that image has been transferred to how we see and relate to God. But guess what… that image of God is inaccurate. And if there’s one thing I want you to hear me say, it’s that God is not a bigger version of your earthly father.

Looking through a Distorted Lens

The distortion of how we see God ultimately comes from what the Bible refers to as our enemy or the devil: Satan. Satan is a liar who wants to distort, discredit, and deceive you about God the Father. Satan isn’t just a liar but “the father of lies,” (John 8: 44) and his number one goal is to deceive you by making God out to be less than He is. Deception, in fact, is the primary tool Satan uses to misdirect your attention away from a God who is massively in love with you and died in your place so that you have the opportunity to live with Him in heaven forever.

If Satan can distort your image of God, he can destroy your life. You will be unable to relate to the father heart of God and will never experience the intimacy, love, and complete acceptance that await you. Through his misdirection you’ll miss the best relationship possible this side of heaven.

Too often we believe the lies, and in doing so, miss the full nature, character, and goodness of God. We won’t approach God as the perfect father that He is, but instead try to gain His love through performance, thinking we are bad and He is mad at us. So many who already know Jesus spend time worrying they will lose their salvation (which they never earned to start with). That is one of Satan’s biggest lies! Others see God as a policeman, or as passively uninvolved, unconcerned, and too busy running the universe to possibly care about the details of their lives.

You May Have Given Up on God, but He Hasn’t Given Up on You

Some of you would say you have no desire for a relationship with God. Your image of God may be so distorted you have nixed the possibility of forming any kind of connection with Him. I hope you will continue to read. The ultimate goal of this book is not that our minds would be informed, but that our hearts would be transformed. It is my hope that your image of God would be clearer and brighter tomorrow than it is today, and your relationship with Him would be stronger.

If you are reading this but couldn’t care less about God, the truth is there is a part of you that really does care; and although you have stopped thinking about engaging in a relationship with Him, He has never stopped pursuing you. God has revealed Himself through His creation and you can see evidence of Him all around. He has also revealed Himself in each of our hearts. The Bible tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.”

God Is God, Not Your Earthly Dad

I’m going to say this over and over again: God is not a bigger version of your earthly father. These words may bring tears to your eyes because you so want this to be true. You have resisted God, because you wanted nothing to do with a heavenly Father who could possibly be a bigger version of the dad you experienced as a child. Neither did I. After I came to Christ and heard about God being a father to me, I wanted to turn in my salvation at the neighborhood Goodwill store. I did not want another father, and certainly not if He was the kind of father I’d already had. (I’ll tell you more about my dad experiences in the next chapter, and then you’ll understand why I felt this way.)

I had to know God was different, so I spent countless hours studying, thinking, talking with professors, and asking pastors and friends about the character of God the Father. I was soon convinced that our heavenly Father is like no father I had ever known! We will talk much more in a later chapter about the perfect father, but for now please open your mind and heart to the possibility of a Father unlike your own…a Father unlike any other.

I love this verse: “See how very much our Father loves us, for he calls us his children, and that is what we are! But the people who belong to this world don’t recognize that we are God’s children because they don’t know him.” (1 John 3:1).

I pray that through the pages of this book, the distorted image you have of God can be realigned with the truth, and that you can walk in the full joy and understanding of what it means to be a child of the most high God. It is only when we face reality that we can change things. It is only through brokenness we can truly be made whole. Sometimes in order to move forward toward healing we have to go backward a little first. We may have to re-open a wound so it can heal properly.

I am so glad that God recycles our pain. He really does use for good the things that Satan means for harm. I found this to be so true in my own life. In the next chapter, you’ll read my own dad-story. I hope my story, my life, and the things I have learned can bring hope to you and to anyone who may be hurt, broken, or stuck because of father wounds.


Excerpted from "God Distorted: How Your Earthly Father Affects Your Perception of God and Why It Matters" by John Bishop. Copyright © 2013 by John Bishop. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Author Profile

John Bishop

John Bishop

John Bishop is the founding and senior Pastor of Living Hope Church, which has grown from four families, to nearly 5000 weekly attendees. John has a Masters Degree in Leadership and Evangelism, and is an international speaker with a passion to both encourage, and challenge pastors to be about what matters most to the heart of God; reaching the lost.

View full Profile of John Bishop

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