DEAR REV. GRAHAM: My father (who's gone now) was very abusive, never showing any love but always using violence to make us obey him. I can't even imagine loving God, because my idea of Him is that He's just like my father, just waiting for us to get out of line so He can punish us. —M.N.
Dear M.N.: Where did your ideas about God come from? You know the answer: You got them by assuming your Heavenly Father must be just like your earthly father. And just as you couldn't love your earthly father because of the way he treated you, you've decided you can't love your Heavenly Father, either.
But what if you're wrong? What if God isn't like your own father — and in fact is totally different? And this is exactly the situation. God doesn't hate you, nor is He waiting to punish you the second you do something wrong. God loves you; in fact, love is at the very center of His character. The Bible says, "God is love" (1 John 4:8).
How do I know God loves you? I know it because Jesus Christ was willing to give His life for you. Would He have done that if He hated you? No, of course not. The Bible says, "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). Turn to Christ and ask Him to come into your life today.
Your father, I'm afraid, had a twisted view of what it means to be a parent. Instead of love, his life seems to have been ruled by anger — and I suspect this has left you with some deep emotional scars. My prayer is that in time those scars will be washed away as Christ's love floods your soul.