When G-d as "Our Father" Conjures Nightmares Instead of Comfort
Updated: Feb 16, 2021
“I appreciate my Rabbi so much, and I wanted to be inspired by the drasha, but I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying. All I kept hearing was the father analogy: ‘G-d is our Father. Every father loves his children! Fathers want to see their children succeed!’ He meant to imply that Hashem is close to us, and operates in our best interest, but for me, it just brought up the flashbacks and pain of my past that I’ve worked so hard to heal. Because my father wasn’t my protector- he was my predator.”
I have a policy that when I write about “cases” here, I must have seen at least three clients who could be the fictitious protagonist, so that even disguised identities are not connected to any one specific person.
What follows is an issue that I’ve heard way more than three times:
So much of our prayer liturgy and philosophy invokes the analogy of G-d as our Father in Heaven. This is also reflected as sermon material, to further highlight the idea that G-d is our Creator, He loves us unconditionally, helps, protects, and wants the best for us. While this can be comforting and empowering for those who were privileged to be raised by wonderful dads, and experience G-d that way, it can and is painful and confusing for the many individuals who were abused, neglected, or abandoned by their fathers. (Some survivors even prefer to avoid using the word “father” in those cases.)
So- what do we do?
I certainly don’t have the answers. I don’t know how a parent can knowingly hurt a child. I can’t explain why a compassionate G-d allows it to happen. I don’t have the authority to change the prayer formulation. I don’t know how one relates to the idea of a loving creator who entrusted her soul to an abuser. In a way, it’s part of the broader theological mystery of why good people suffer. I do know that some are able to reconcile or accept this internally somehow- if not intellectually then maybe emotionally or spiritually. I also know that many are not able to- and that needs to be recognized and respected too.
Sometimes the beginning of solution is to simply acknowledge the pain. To say to the tzibbur: Hey, guys- I know that a lot of the G-d paradigm is predicated on the notion of “loving Father.” And for those of you who are blessed to know what that feels like, please understand that you are fortunate, and please feel free to tap into that warm energy. But for the many of you who bear the hidden scars of un-Divine, cruel or negligent parenting, we see you too. We know that you may not share your experiences, it may be your family’s secret or your own private story. You may smile and act like it’s all ok. But even and especially if the word “father” is a bad word for you- you too have a place here, in this people, in this philosophy. You are not alone. For you, we can perhaps try to avoid using sweeping language like “all fathers love their kids..” or “every child knows…” I have possibly done this in the past, and I would like to try to be more sensitive going further. Perhaps we can try to edit more inclusively like: “A moral, loving father would…” and “a child raised with kindness knows…” Just as a nod of respect to those who still suffer silently.
It’s not a complete solution, by any stretch, but it’s something.