I purchased this book after Paige Benton Brown recommended it, and I’m so glad! McClung’s insights based on ministering in three cultures provide valuable insights into Scripture. We will see how heart wounds from earthly fathers impact a person profoundly, and how he or she desperately needs to see how different is our heavenly Father.
I’d like to set up this week with a scene from “Tree of Life,” a profoundly contemplative movie by Terrence Malick. It’s about suffering, beginning with a quote from Job. Brad Pitt plays the abusive father and Jessica Chastain, the mother who is full of grace. Many feel Malick’s movies too ethereal or lacking a plot line, but I find them beautiful, if at times a bit long and mysterious. Malick is a devout Catholic, and I have met so many “recovering Catholics” who have experienced abuse or a lack of grace in the Catholic church.
But several of those Catholic friends, when they come to Bible study for the first time, discover a very different heavenly Father than they imagined, and come into a personal relationship with Christ. I’m certainly not saying that there are not Catholics who have a personal relationship with Christ, for there are. I’ve just mentioned Malick, and last week we looked at Henri Nouwen. But I also know many Catholics who have turned away from God or fear coming to Him. (They may come to Mary instead.) How vital it is for any who have had “father wounds,” whether from their own earthly fathers or from abuse in the church, to understand the depth of the Father’s love, and why we can come boldly to Him.
McClung ministered in Australia, a continent full of “father wounds.” He explains that many early settlers of Australia were convicted in England for their crimes, “some for as little as stealing a loaf of bread.” (Think Les Mis) “Australia was seen as a giant penal colony, and many of the prison wardens were priests and ministers. Imagine how most men felt about God if they were sent unjustly to an Australian prison only to have their sentence enforced by a priest or minister. As John Smith says, “Australia has a history that causes many not to believe in God, when really they should not believe in man!” McClung says, “They have not rejected God, but a false image of God.”
- What stands out to you from the above? What do you want to remember? Do you disagree with anything?
- Share a way you have experienced the gentleness of God through Scripture, music, or an experience this last week.
Monday: What God Has Your Loved One Rejected?
McClung writes: “Aussies themselves will tell you that most Aussies couldn’t care less about God. But I don’t believe that. Aussies have not rejected God — they have rejected false images of Him. The god they reject, I reject also.”
This has caused me to ponder and wish I could have another chance to communicate with those who seem to have rejected God. Once at pickleball when inviting a woman to our Bible study, she told me “I was abused sexually by my priest as a child. It ruined my marriage, my life. I’m really not interested.” I did commiserate and told her God is not like that, but I could have handled it better. I wish I had said, “The god you reject, I reject also!” I also am going to start asking people what they think God is like so we are at least on the same page!
McClung looks at Michal, the daughter of King Saul. He says: “Michal’s life clearly illustrates the pain of a “wounded” or “broken” spirit. Michal was raised in an environment charged with friction and conflict…She was moved between the men in her life like a pawn in a chess game.”
3. Why did Saul want to give Michal in marriage to David according to 1 Samuel 18: 20-21?
4. Read 1 Samuel 19:11-17 and explain how this revealed not just hatred for David, but a lack of love for his daughter, Michal.
5. David has to flee for his life and leaves Michal behind. Michal eventually remarries Paltiel. Read what happens in 2 Samuel 3:13-16.
A. In the midst of bartering for land, David makes another demand (v. 13-14). What is it?
B. The verb “taken” in verse 15 is used repeatedly in Scripture (as with the virgins in the book of Esther taken from their homes for King Xerxes contest) to mean forcibly taken against their will or the will of their parents, or in this case, husband. How can you see grief here?
6. Though I had never thought of this before, McClung believes that the way Michal was treated caused bitterness to grow in her heart toward her father, toward David, and toward God. He points to 2 Samuel 6:16. Do you think that is possible? What are your thoughts?
I tend to think he is right, though as we always tell the women in prison, still, they have a choice, despite the sins of their fathers, to do right. Yet it gives me compassion and I think I will probe to see if the reason a person is rejecting God is because they have a false view of Him, thinking He is like their father or their husband.
7. In what ways was your earthly father like your heavenly Father? In what ways was he not? How might this be impacting you?
Tuesday: What is God Like?
Floyd McClung’s five-year-old daughter asked him: “What does God look like, Daddy?”
He said, “He looks like Jesus.”
This reminded me of a question my stylist’s 6-year-old had: “Does God have feet?” She does not know Scripture so asked me. I told her “Yes, because Jesus is God made flesh. His feet were pierced for us.”
8. Read John 14:1-9
A. How can you see love and gentleness in verses 1-3?
B. What does Philip ask in verse 8 and how does Jesus respond in verse 9?
9. Challenge Question: For those who read Dane Ortland’s Gentle and Lowly, what did you learn about the character of Jesus, and therefore the Father, from that?
10. Think about an episode in Scripture with Jesus that particularly moves your heart. Share it and why it moves you and what it tells you about what the Father is like.
Wednesday: The God Who Sees
11. Read Genesis 16:5-13
A. How was Hagar mistreated?
B. How did the Lord encourage her?
C. Many of you have been mistreated by your family and have wounded hearts. Do you believe God cared for you and saw you? Do you believe he is calling for you to come to Him? Do you know of others like this — how might you pray for them and talk to them?
12. McClung takes the incident of Jesus and the Samaritan woman and sheds a new light on it.
A. Read through John 4:1-26. How might she, like Michal, have been a pawn of men? (We don’t know, but we do know women were, in the culture, treated like slaves.) So imagine!
B. How did Jesus treat her differently than the culture? Find everything you can.
C. McClung writes: “He saw past the outward hardness, the loud jokes, and the sarcasm about religion: He saw her heart; He saw her longing for something to fill her emptiness; He saw her need to feel loved, cared for, and special.” Think about this and how you might apply it to your own heart or to the broken heart of another. Share your answer here.
Thursday: Imperfect Shadows
13. Even the best fathers are imperfect shadows of our Heavenly Father. Let’s consider some verses that show us that. McClung says our past experiences color how we relate to God. So let’s consider first how well or poorly our “shadow” did, and then God is better.
A. How giving as your earthly father? What does Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 7:11?
B. Did your earthly father discipline you harshly so that you back away from God like a beaten pup? How had God been gentle and forgiving with you?
C. Has your mother or father forsaken you? What does Isaiah 49:15 say? And over and over, what does Scripture say about “orphans?”
D. Was your father’s love conditional? How is God’s love different? (Think about the Father in the Prodigal Sons.)
E. Was your father affectionate? Read how God expresses His affection in Hosea 11:1-4.
Friday: Near to the Brokenhearted – Always
Even the best earthly father cannot always be with us and cannot live forever. But we are promised He will never leave us or forsake us. Lately, after reading A Sea Between Us, a true story of a Cuban refugee who faced so many dangers, I’ve been doing what he did through the day, telling my soul: Fear not for I AM with you. My Father loves me and will never leave me.
I’d like you to share a prayer of praise for this and tell us about a song that ministers to you that we might sing or listen to as well.
13. What is your take-a-way and why?
14. If you were to really believe these things, how might you live differently today?
What Does God Look Like?