The difference between a Sky Daddy and Our Father in Heaven

Sydney Morning Herald columnist, Peter FitzSimons, loves to have a crack at the family of the Bible.

It is usually because one of our family, an elite sportsperson or some other kind of celebrity, says something like how grateful they are to Jesus or God for their victory at some major tournament or awards ceremony. So Fitzy, or TFF, or whoever is hiding under that red bandanna, likes to refer to all members of this family as fancifully believing in a ‘sky daddy’ - a kind of cross between your favourite grandfather and Santa Claus.

Sometimes it’s because a brother or sister in Christ makes a comment about human sexuality that is counter to popular culture. So, a few Saturdays ago (February 28th), we read in ‘What They Said’, not so much what they said, but Fitzy’s commentary about what they said: 

    Citing the best selling book of a tribe of goat herders from 2,000 years ago frequently puts a break on social progress.

I'm not going to defend, or otherwise, the statement of a possible family member (I think it was someone called Manny something who plays some kind of sport I have never taken much interest in), but to point out the difference between a sky daddy, a straw man caricature of Fitzy’s imagination, and what Jesus taught about his Father in Heaven and our Father in Heaven.

And in a little defense of Fitzy, not of Manny, some members of my family do say things that can be unhelpful and may even lead to a false sky daddy caricature of the one that Jesus Christ calls his Father. As I’m sure I have said unhelpful things from time to time.

Sky Daddies Are Imagined

There’s nothing easier for a popular tabloid journalist than to create a caricature, with ammunition supplied by ‘Christian celebrities’, and then take pot shots at the target of their imagination. Serious writing demands more circumspect comment. 

This so called Sky Daddy, or best selling book of a bunch of goat herders, has shaped the very society and freedoms that the man in the red bandanna enjoys. The family of the Bible spans cultures, centuries and fickle cross-currents of popular thought. It just seems odd that a man whom I think would claim to love both history and healthy societies would show such little regard for the foundations of the very freedoms he fancies.

True, variations of the Sky Daddy syndrome in various expressions of ‘prosperity theology’ do nothing to help the image of the Bible’s family. But we can’t be responsible for everything our siblings says. And it may not only be members of the Bible’s family who perpetuate this false image. To be fair on Fitzy, he tackles any attempt to acknowledge a higher power, being or, heaven forbid, ‘a god’. Muslims are not spared his satire. Nor, I imagine, are the proverbial ex-atheists in fox-holes.

Our Father In Heaven Is Real

Not every member of our family perpetuates the Sky Daddy syndrome. Fitzy would probably not care to know that I love the game he loves, and played poorly the game he excelled at. Nor do I think he would be interested in the fact that I prayed to my Heavenly Father as I ran onto the field in every lower grade game I played. 

Or in the fact that I never prayed to win, but only prayed that we would all play fairly and nobody would get (too) hurt. I know that last statement begs the question of why I was penalised for being offside so much.

The other Saturday I was organising a large outdoor event. It was to raise money for the aid agency I am privileged to serve. Its smooth running was contingent, to a large extent, on fair weather. If it rained we had a less than ideal contingency plan.

I was checking the weather modeling a fortnight out with intense interest. Every report the same. More than 50% chance of rain all day. I didn’t once pray for a fine day. Some members of my family would call my faith into question on that - perhaps the ones who prayed fervently for no rain that day.

Whenever I am tempted to treat the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ like a personal genie in a bottle, I turn to Jesus’ words about how to pray:

Our Father in Heaven,
May Your name be honoured,
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done,
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread
Forgive us our sins
As we forgive those
who sin against us
Lead us not into temptation
And deliver us from evil.

It was interesting, when in discussion with exiled Zimbabwean cricketer, Henry Olonga, that when he needed to escape the country as an enemy of the state after his black armband protest against the death of democracy at the 2003 World Cup, a win or a washed out match against Pakistan would have been his ticket out. 

But he knelt beside his bed, not praying for rain, nor victory, but praying simply, “God, help me.” He didn’t know how God would answer his cry for help. As it happened it was through rain, but Henry was appealing for grace, however God chose to give it.

I might be sounding like I’m on Fitzy’s side. But I’m not. I’m on the side of the goat farmers. 

Actually, I’m on the side of their shepherd. 

I’m on the side of the one who prayed to his God and Father, and, amazing grace that it sounds and that it is, I’m on the side of the one who gave me my daily bread that other Saturday and who forgives the sins I commit every day.

I’m on the side of the one who died and rose again from the dead for that forgiveness. I’m on the side of the one and rules this world and its weather - and does it in many ways and purposes that I am rarely privy to. Except for this purpose - He is patiently withholding his righteous judgement on this guilty world in order to give runaway people, including those in red bandannas, an opportunity to come back to him and receive that forgiveness, and all that flows from it.

I’m on the side of the family of the Bible who is on the side of the unborn child, the frail-aged, the same sex attracted person who seeks to remain true to what the Bible says about human sexuality, those who are dying from drought, fainting from famine, suffering from starvation, crippled by corruption, groping in the darkness for lack of the gospel and hiding from terror.

It’s hardly social progress to not be on the side of these things. And that’s the Bible’s side.

I’m not on the side of flashy political correctness, flash-in-the-pan popular culture or fickle personal choice.

I’m on the side of history, not histrionics, of scholarship, not sensationalism, of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, not the fiction of white, wealthy, western headline hunters.

Oh, by the way, that other Saturday, the sun shined the whole day and that night, under a clear sky, I went to see the Waratahs thrash the Reds - none of it prayed for and all of it enjoyed.

Feature photo: Today's newspaper is tomorrow's fish and chip wrapper  Bethany Weeks