The Fierce Father
“Shhhh. You’re having a nightmare,” the voice whispered in the darkness. “Wake up. Please, wake up,” my mother’s voice urged. The pounding of my heart rocked my body. My mother gathered me into her arms as she tried to croon me back to reality, but my nightmare had started there—in real life– and pursued me into my dreams.
“It wasn’t just a nightmare,” I said aloud. Then, I couldn’t stop the tears. Through broken, sometimes incoherent sentences, I told her that the father of one of my very best friends had assaulted me several days before—in her home with my sweet friend in the next room. While we were watching a movie on one of the last lazy summer afternoons just before the start of our sophomore year of high school, he had come home from work because he “forgot his lunch.” He told her to go make him a sandwich while he washed up. As soon as she left the room, he stepped between me and the television as if to ask me a question. Before I knew what was happening, he had pinned me to the couch and covered my mouth with his. I couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move, the weight of his body crushing me, his hands hurting me. She unwittingly saved me by hollering a question at him, distracting him just long enough for me to break loose, slither from beneath him, and half crawl, half run into the bathroom. I locked the door and threw up. Finally, as I leaned all my weight against the door afraid he would try to come in, I heard her return to the living room and ask where I was. He answered something I couldn’t understand and then the front door slammed. She knocked on the door and called my name. “Call my mom, please,” I had cried. “I’m very sick.”
As I finished the story, my mom started to ask, “Why didn’t you tell us” but before she could finish, I cried out, “Please, please don’t tell dad. I’m afraid of what he’ll do.”
From the darkness of the hallway a low, guttural voice rasped, “If I’m not back soon, call the police.”
That night, I am convinced, God intervened and kept my dad from finding that man at home. The police discouraged us from filing a complaint since I had not been raped, had no visible signs of assault, and it would only be his word against mine. Dad intervened in other ways, though. Because of his own fear of what he might do as he had first wanted and kill the man, he took other Christian men with him to confront the situation. The man said I had made up the story. Dad told his wife what happened and offered to help her if she or her daughter were being hurt. She denied the entire situation and refused to talk to anyone further.
My friend begged me not to be angry with her and told me that her “dad would never hurt me or anyone in my family” but didn’t defend him any further than that. I told her that she had saved me by shouting “what kind of cheese do you want?” She began to cry. She and I remained friends, but I never went back to her home or attended any activity where her dad might appear. My dad asked me for a list of friends who had been in that man’s home or might be. He warned their parents. At least one other friend, her parents admitted, had suffered through a similar incident, but they refused to get involved.
The physical and emotional hurt I felt impacted many areas of my life for a long time. I do not know—and most of us can never even imagine–the pain, trauma and life-long impact that so many people (including some people I know and love deeply) suffer after being assaulted and molested and even tortured by predators to a degree that makes that nightmare from 40 years ago seem a distant storm rumble compared to a direct lightning strike. My heart breaks because so many people who have been attacked by predators do not have anyone to stand up for them. Our justice system, society, schools churches, families and I have failed to protect them and often don’t even support them. Justice seems to rarely prevail. Even worse, at times, the very people who should be helping them worsen the damage. Our hearts should be broken; our arms need to be open and strong. We should be better and we need to work for change. Ultimately, though, the only one powerful enough to change us and to heal the damage is our Fierce Father.
That night as I whispered my story to mom to please not tell my dad, my fear wasn’t that dad would be upset with me. I wasn’t even afraid of the sadness and pain that it would cause him. I was terrified of what he would do to defend me, to avenge me, to protect his child. My dad, like all of us, was flawed. Had he found that man, his intention was to break civil and spiritual law. He did not intend to file a legal complaint or even drag him beaten and bruised to the local police station. We talked about it once many months later and he told me that he believed God kept him from finding that man, too, and that God protected my whole family by keeping dad from murdering someone. But that fierce protective reaction and even the wrath over his child being hurt, I truly believe, reflected the nature of God’s love for us. In fact, I believe my dad’s fierce protective spirit pales in comparison to our Father’s.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not comparing God to my dad or vice versa. Dad and I did not agree on many things, and I know I disappointed him sometimes. Both He and I have a sinful nature and God does not. Dad and I were called to live under the laws of God, nature and country—in that order. God lives completely and only bound by His own holiness. His wrath and vengeance and love are not bound by human constraints. God is rightfully both judge and jury, the only righteous judge and jury.
That night 40 years ago gave me a gift. In that night, God gave me a glimpse of His fierce love. I saw in my dad’s reaction a glimpse of God’s love. Not long afterward, I read Psalm 18, and it struck a deep chord in my heart. I read this passage often. I find great comfort and assurance—and freedom—in it.
[Psa 18:2-15 ESV]
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies.
The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me. In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help.
From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry. Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind. He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water. Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds. The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
Do you see it? Can you picture God, the Father, the Warrior King charging out through the darkness to avenge his child? Read 7-15 again in the NLT version and let the scene unfold like a movie.
Then the earth quaked and trembled. The foundations of the mountains shook; they quaked because of his anger. Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth. Glowing coals blazed forth from him. He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath his feet. Mounted on a mighty angelic being, he flew, soaring on the wings of the wind. He shrouded himself in darkness, veiling his approach with dark rain clouds. Thick clouds shielded the brightness around him and rained down hail and burning coals. The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded amid the hail and burning coals. He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies; his lightning flashed, and they were greatly confused. Then at your command, O LORD, at the blast of your breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen, and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.
That glimpse of the fierce love of God, that moment when I heard my dad’s voice from the darkness and knew that his love for me demanded action to avenge my hurt, freed my heart. His wrath and vengeance freed me. I have never felt the need to avenge myself for what happened. I have never felt a misplaced guilt for what happened. I believe my dad’s fierce anger, knowing that he would fight for me, freed me. It freed me to love my friend and not vent my anger or hurt at her. The fierce power of my dad freed me. It freed me from hatred of the man who hurt me. That night I actually prayed for mercy for him—because I knew the fury coming for him. I knew that my dad was much bigger and more powerful and incensed. I knew that man was facing severe harm and possibly death.
Jesus knows God intimately as the Father, His Father. He knows God’s nature. He knows God’s love. He knows God’s intent. He knows God’s power. As I child I wondered how Jesus could push His own weight up against feet torn through by a spike, using the little strength left in His arms to drag his back splayed open by whips across a rough-hewn cross so that He could draw in enough breath to cry out, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” In that glimpse, I realized that He could do it because He knows the Father as the Warrior King and the vengeance His Holy love demands. He intimately knows the Father who would bow the heavens and come down to avenge His child. He could feel the rumbles beginning. He saw the dark rain clouds swelling on the horizon to veil the Warrior’s approach. He could feel the electrical charges growing in the heavens, building for the lighting strikes and the hail to come. He pushed His own weight up against His feet torn through by a spike, using the little strength left in His arms to drag his back splayed open by whips across a rough-hewn cross so that He could take in enough breath to cry out for mercy because He knew what justice and holiness demand and He knew the Warrior Father watching Him suffer.
But. He and the Father had determined that roles would be reversed. He and the Father decided that the Son would suffer for the orphan sinner, even the very ones crucifying Him, so the sinner could become the child protected and avenged. They had decided that Jesus, the blameless and true Son, would face the justice and vengeance my behavior deserved. Jesus pushed His own weight up against feet torn through by a spike, using the little strength left in His arms to drag his back splayed open by whips across a rough-hewn cross so that He could take in enough breath to cry out “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing” so that the orphan sinner could become the chosen child.
Jesus pushed His own weight up against feet torn through by a spike, using the little strength left in His arms to drag his back splayed open by whips across a rough-hewn cross so that He could take in enough breath to cry out “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing”—for me, the child loved fiercely by the Father.