Focus on the Family Broadcast

Overcoming the Father Wound (Part 1 of 2)

Overcoming the Father Wound (Part 1 of 2)

Best-selling author Josh McDowell discusses his devastating childhood in which his alcoholic father abused his mother, and how his emotional pain led to his conviction that God had abandoned him. Josh recounts how he eventually came to faith in Christ and found healing from his father wounds through a relationship with his Heavenly Father. (Part 1 of 2) 
Original Air Date: June 11, 2008



Mr. Josh McDowell: I truly believed that Christians had two brains: one was lost and the other was out looking for it. (laughter) I did! I thought Christians were walking idiots. Look, I met some!

End of Excerpt

John Fuller: Well stay with us as we share how Josh McDowell went from a scoffer, a skeptic, to a passionate believer in Jesus Christ. Your host is Focus President, Jim Daly, and I’m John Fuller.

Jim Daly: And here’s the fascinating part – Josh grew up in a terribly dysfunctional home. So, as he investigated the Christian faith, he also had a burning question: “If God is real, and if He really cares about me, why did He allow my childhood abuse to occur?” And you’ll hear what Josh learned about God, and how those facts gave him a new perspective. He saw God’s abounding LOVE.

And Josh McDowell has authored almost 80 books, now, including the newly revised best-seller Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which was named by World Magazine as one of the most influential Christian books of the last 50 years. His book, More Than a Carpenter, is another Christian classic. 27 million copies have been distributed in 85 languages! His latest book is called, Set Free to Choose Right: Equipping Today’s Kids to Make Right Moral Choices for Life.

John: Yeah. And as we get started, there are some parts of Josh’s personal story that may be disturbing to younger listeners. So, if you have little ones, please use some discretion there. That said, here’s Josh McDowell speaking at a Teen Apologetic Conference that was hosted here, at “Focus on the Family.”


Josh: I’m gonna challenge your thinking tonight, but I’m gonna start with your relationships. I want to ask you several questions: You [sic] ever felt lonely? You [sic] ever felt abandoned? Have you ever felt like it wouldn’t matter to anyone if you lived or died? I want to tell you a story. It’s my story. I was born in Union City, Michigan, a little town about 2,000 people. My father was a town drunk. I hardly ever knew him sober until I was 20 years old. I’d go to high school, and my friends would make jokes about my daddy down in the gutter, downtown makin’ a fool about him, out of himself. Every time they told a joke about my daddy, it hurt! But I never, ever let anyone know. That was a secret I carried in my life for years.

We lived on a farm. In fact, the city limits went right through our driveway. And I’d go out to barn at 8,9,10,11,12 years old, and I’d see my mother, who I loved very much, lying in the gutter in the manure behind the cows. Where my father yanked the black milk airholes off the pipes and beat my mother to a bloody pulp. At 8, 9, 10, 11 years-old, I would kick him and beat on him to stop. And I would scream, “When I am strong enough I’ll kill you!”

We’d have friends over, and my dad would be drunk. And to keep from that shame, before friends would arrive, I was just a little kid, I’d grab my dad around the neck, he wasn’t a very big man. And I’d pull him out through the dirt or the snow to the barn and I’d pull him in to the pen where the cows would have their calves and I’d drop him on the straw. You learn to drive young on the farm, so I’d take the car and I’d back it out of the garage and park it up around behind the silo and the barn and tell the friends he had to go away so we wouldn’t be shamed.

In case he woke up before they left I’d go back out there and I’d get down under him as a little kid and I’d prop him up against the boards. And I’d push his arms through the board and I’d pull ‘em through the bottom board and I’d tie a rope from one arm to the other arm. And I’d take a rope and I’d go around behind and I’d make a hangman’s noose and I’d put it around his neck. And then I’d put it around his feet as best as I could, as a little kid, I’d pull that rope as tight as I could until his head would go all the over that top board, backwards. Then I’d wrap around his feet and knot it. I’d do that at six o’clock at night and leave him there until five, six o’clock the next morning. I can’t tell you how many mornings I went out to that barn – it was so discouraging cause he was still alive. I just wanted him to die. I just wanted him out of my life. I wanted him to quit hurting my mother and I couldn’t do it.

Two months before I graduated from high school I came home from a date about midnight, walked into the house and heard my mother profusely just crying and weeping. And I panicked. And I ran through the farmhouse yelling, “Mom, what’s wrong? What’s wrong?” And I ran into her room and she sat up in bed and she said, “Son, your father has broken my heart.” Then reached down, put her arms around me, pulled me to her and she said, “Son, I’ve lost the will to live. All I want to do is live until your graduation and I just want to die.” Boy that was hard to hear! You know happened? You know the irony? Two months later, 61days later I graduated from high school and the next Friday the 13th my mother up and died. Don’t tell me you can die of a broken heart. My mother did. My father broke it and I hated him for it.

When I was11 years old, just a little younger, about the age of some you even here, my oldest brother, Wilmot, sued my parents in a court of law for everything they had. Can you imagine a son suing his parents? Well one thing my brother got in the law suit was a home my folks had built on the farm for workers. And he announced he was going to move it. I found out later and my parents went to him and said, “Wilmot, we need that house, leave it! We’ll buy you land, we’ll give you the money, we’ll buy a house, whatever.” But my father had so wounded my mother, my brother said, “No, I’m gonna move it.”

Well when they announced on that Saturday that they were gonna move that house a mile and a half down into Union City, Michigan, I thought, “No way!” My mind couldn’t comprehend; you’re gonna pick that big house up and move it a mile and a half down the road? Impossible! It was like anticipating your first trip to Disney Land. It was all I could think about for two weeks.

And I got up that Saturday morning, went out and did my chores, went back in, took a good shower ‘cause I wanted to get barn smell off. And I put on my best work clothes, slapped on some Old Spice, and I headed out the back of the house through the porch and there was a little sidewalk that went around back of house. As I ran down that sidewalk to the left, as it goes around the corner of the house, you could look up the knoll to see where the house was, they were gonna move it. It was probably about the distance of that wall to that wall, up a slope going up. And as I rounded the corner of the house and looked up there I saw a small group of people. It was 30, 40 people, they were farmers from around Union City, Michigan. There were merchants; stores where I went in as a kid your age for a hamburger, milkshake, school supplies. And many of these farmers and merchants were parents of my friends. People’s homes I stayed in, had a meal in, stay over night in. I figured they couldn’t believe you’re gonna move a house like this and they came out to watch it.

It didn’t take me long to realize that’s not why they were there. They were there because my brother knew my parents would stand in opposition to moving that house. And my brother was very popular. And he went around, got these farmers and merchants, to come out that Saturday morning to stand in opposition to my parents. Well, I didn’t know that.

Here I am, 11 years old, and I mean I my adrenaline was flowing and as fast as I could run up that knoll with all the excitement in the world, and I got to the top of that knoll and my world came crashing down.

I heard these farmers, these merchants, these parents of my friends, yell the dirtiest, filthiest names at my parents. I couldn’t handle it, and I snapped. And I lost…Whew, boy this brings back a lot of memories…I lost part of my life. I don’t know if it was five minutes, 10 minutes or what. I have no recollection what happened after that very split second. Even last summer, I went back and I stood there and I said, “God, give me back my memory.” I’ve done that four times and God hasn’t seen fit to do it. I know it’s there!

The only conscious thought I have after that, I was running down the right side of the knoll just screaming and yelling. And that’s probably one of the most embarrassing things an 11-year-old kid could do. And I ran to the end of the barn where we had a room, probably a little bigger than this stage right here, where there were three stalls for wheat, oats, and shelled corn to grind up for cattle feed. I turned around and I shoved that huge door closed, put the big iron latch on it, reached over and knocked out the two boards holding up the blinders until it was absolutely pitch black in that room.

And, at 11 years old, I went to the corn bin and I crawled in and I buried myself up to my neck. And that’s when I prayed to die. I never wanted to go out in the light again. I never wanted to go to school in Union City, Michigan again. I never wanted to go in to one of those shops. You know what really hurt at 11 years old? I never ever wanted to go to a friend’s house again. That’s what hurt.

I was there for over three hours and my parents never came looking for me. You ever felt alone? Ever felt abandoned? Have you ever felt like it wouldn’t matter to anyone if you lived or died? That’s how I felt at 11 years old. And I just wanted to die.

Finally, about one o’clock that afternoon I was so hungry and thirsty, and chaff was in my eyes, and my nose and my mouth, that I dug myself out of that corn and I went to the door and took that big latch off and I slid that door open. That sunlight hit me in the eyes. It shocked me into reality. And at that moment I started slamming the door on God. I cursed God. [long pause] ‘Cause I felt God had abandoned me–if God existed. And I cursed my father because I felt my father abandoned me. For six to seven years I slammed that door.

Program Note:

John: This is “Focus on the Family” and that’s Josh McDowell. And you can get his CD of this entire presentation for a monthly pledge of any amount when you call 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. Or stop by

Let’s return, now, to more from Josh McDowell.

End of Program Note

Josh: I enrolled in the University. In the first few weeks of university I saw a small group of people, they weren’t very many. They were eight students and two professors; one of Sociology and one of History. And ya’ll, there was something different about their lives, there was. They seemed to know where they were going in life, that’s unusual today. They seemed to have direction. They seemed to have convictions. I don’t know about you all here, but I enjoy being around people who have convictions. I don’t care if they agree with me or not! I admire men and women who know why they believe what they believe or why they don’t believe it! I think that’s why I love debates. I love the conflict.

But what really got my attention was something you have it everywhere, you have it in your community, but I saw a different dimension I’d never seen, it’s called love. Here was a group of students and professors who really seemed to love and care for each other. Now you find that everywhere. But here’s what was different: they loved and cared for people outside their group. The way I was raised, that was weird. But I wanted it. Oh, I wanted it. So, I made friends with them.

After several weeks, we’re sitting around the table in the Student Union, six of the students there and two of the professors. And the conversation started to get to God. Hmm-hmph. If you’re an insecure student, a professor, a homemaker, a business man or woman, and you’re insecure and the conversation gets to God, you have to put on the big front. So, I was putting on that big front but they

were irritating me. So, I looked over at this young lady, oh she was a good looking woman. I used to think all Christians were ugly. (laughter) I did! I figured if you couldn’t make it anywhere else in life, you became a Christian. But she was really cute and that kind of threw me for a loop.

Now, I had a problem! This was my problem: I wanted what they had, but I didn’t want them to know that I wanted what they had. But all the time, they knew that I wanted what they had and didn’t want them to know that I wanted what they had! So, I leaned back in my chair, acting totally hackneyed or nonchalant. And I looked over at this young lady and I said, “Tell me, what changed your lives? Why are you different from the other students, the leaders, the professors on campus?” She looked back at me with a little smile–that can be irritating. She said two words I never thought I would ever hear in my lifetime in University as part of the answer. She looked back and me and said, “Jesus Christ.”

I said, “Don’t give me that garbage! I am sick and tired of religion: God, the Bible, church!” And I exploded. Only three times in my life have I lost my temper and this was the first time and I came unglued. A friend of mine about five years ago said, “Why’d you do that? She simply said Jesus Christ…” I don’t know why, but I think this is why: When I was 11 years old in that corn bin, that experience had to be quite cataclysmic for me. I think it affected my whole personality; everything that I am.

And at 11 years old I started to stuff that bitterness, that hatred, down in to my life for God and my father. And when they said “Jesus Christ,” young people, I think it was like a volcano. It just…it came out, it exploded and I came unglued. They hung in there with me. Thank God they didn’t walk away! What would you have done this week? How many of you walked away or stood in there?

Well they stood in there with me. And after I got calmed down, they challenged me to intellectually [sic], to use my mind to examine the claims that Jesus Christ is God’s son, and that the Bible was truly the Word of God and accurate and reliable. [laughs] I thought that was a joke. I really did.

I truly believed that Christians had two brains: one was lost and the other was out looking for it. (laughter) I did! I thought Christians were walking idiots. Look, I met some! They could tell me what they believed, but I could never find a Christian who could give me any intelligent reason why they believed it. And to me that’s the epitome of stupidity.

Well, they kept challenging me–no,no, they ticked me off. So finally, I said, “Okay, I’ll accept your challenge,” but I didn’t do it prove anything, I did it to refute them. The whole background of my first book, that huge gold one, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, was I set out to write a book against Christianity. I figured any fool could do that and I’d qualify. And second, I was going to prove that God abandoned me in that corn bin.

So, I left the University, traveled throughout the United States, England, Germany, France and the Middle East, gathering the evidence to write that book. It was on a Friday night, about 6:30, I was sitting in a museum in Northeast London. I was a little tired, and I’ll never forget, I leaned back in my chair and I cupped my hands behind my head, and right out loud in front of everyone, which was probably three people, (laughter) I said, “It’s true! It’s true! It’s true!”

Now what I meant by that was a reference to the New Testament–not that it was the Word of God, trust me, I wasn’t even close to that. What I had concluded, as an obnoxious, antagonistic agnostic, I had concluded: I could hold the New Testament–and I wasn’t even a Christian–I concluded, I could hold the New Testament in my hands and say two things were true about it: One, what I have today is what was written down. It has not been changed. Don’t you let anyone come along and tell you that Christians came along and changed this, that’s an absolute historic lie.

Second thing I concluded, that what was written down was true. You see, my mother didn’t raise any dummies. If what was written down wasn’t true than I could care less that what I have today was what was written down. C’mon, I’m not an idiot! But I concluded that what was written down was true. Now, true in this sense: true that Jesus said this and Jesus did this. Not necessarily what Jesus said was true, but true that He said it. The other comes later, another talk. I’m so glad God didn’t give up on me. He knew the bitterness in my heart. He knew the blasphemy. He knew the anger and the hurt. But He didn’t. I don’t believe anyone can approach God except God draws them, I really don’t. As enthralled as I am with the human mind, I’m fascinated by it. The human mind is like a pea without a shell compared to the mind of God. And God was working in my heart and mind to draw me in spite of my attitude and the anger and the bitterness.

I said, “Okay God, if… if it is true–I’m not really saying it is–but if it is true, then what does it say?” Oh, this is when I read–I even went to the Old Testament–when I read in Exodus 34:14. Now your translations will have it this way: “You should worship no other God but the Lord for He is a God who is jealous.” You know what it really means in the Hebrew there? This: “You should worship no other God but the Lord for He is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.” That’s what “jealous” means there.

I went, “Whoa, wait a minute. God, you’re saying, if you are–I’m not saying you are–but if you are, you’re saying that you are passionate about a relationship with me? Where were you when I was in the corn bin?” and I exploded. The second time in my life I lost my temper and I came unglued.

About 45 minutes later I got calmed down thanks to some Christians there, and God kept working. I said, “Okay God, okay. If you are, and you are passionate–you’re jealous about a relationship with me–then what would that look like?” I couldn’t picture it. Oh, men and women, this is when as a total obnoxious university student, I discovered the love of God. I wasn’t even a Christian! I discovered four things about God’s love.

First thing I learned is that God’s love takes the initiative. He didn’t wait around for me to love Him. “For God so loved the world he gave…” This then is love, not that we loved him, but He loved us.

Second thing I learned about God’s love is that it’s sacrificial, boy that was a new twist. “For God so loved the world He gave His only begotten son. This then is love, not that we loved him, but He loved us and gave His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

The third thing I learned about God’s love is that it’s all knowing. It’s knowledgeable. In Psalm 139 verse one it says you have examined my heart and know everything about me. Before there’s a word upon my lips you know it. When I lie down and rise up from afar and know it. You know, one of the biggest problems I had…just is… was in that process when I started to realize, “You know, this is probably true. Jesus probably is the Messiah, the Son of God. The Bible is probably the Word of God and true. As I started to go through that process you know what my greatest fear was? And I mean it gripped me. Is it if God really knew me, he would never love me. And that was my fear. If I came to know it was true, then I’d be left out.

But you know what I found? The Gaithers wrote a song that, I always say they wrote it about me–it wasn’t but it depicts my life. It’s called, “I Am Loved” and it says, “He who knows you best, loves you most.” And I realized that as non-believer.

The fourth thing I learned about God’s love, it’s all encompassing. In John 15:9, you’ve probably read this before; did you ever get the impact of it? Jesus, speaking to his disciples, says “Guys, don’t you get it?” –they really didn’t. He said, “Look, as the Father loves me the Son, I love you.” Do you get that? Jesus is actually saying that as much as God the Father loves me the Son, “I. Love. You.” And that caused a crisis in my life.

You say, “Now c’mon, Josh! You’re starting to conclude that He is the Son of God, the Bible is true, and that would cause a crisis?” Yes.

Probably the most major crisis I’ve ever had in my life, because this was my crisis: Is it true? Or do I so want to be loved, I am willing to be psychologically manipulated into believing anything? Or is it true?

Because even as a non-believer I realized, if it is not true then love is not real and neither is forgiveness. And I concluded as a non-believer, if He is the Son of God, then I will follow Him the rest of my life with every breath I ever breathe. But if He is not, then I will have walked away and never ever, ever turned back.

That’s when my attitude changed. I changed from being antagonistic; to I truly believe I became an honest inquirer. Not to prove it right or prove it wrong, but simply to ask, “Is it true or is it false?” and to live with the consequences.


John: Josh McDowell on today’s “Focus on the Family” and we’ll hear the conclusion of this message next time.

Jim: John, I always love hearing testimonies from smart people who tried to disprove Christianity but ended up becoming believers in the process. Josh is one of the best examples of that! And all of that amazing research is in his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, which was updated and re-released last year. It is a Christian classic, and you can get a copy from us here at Focus on the Family.

And you know, there’s a strange connection there with Josh, both in the type of dad’s we had, but also, when I was in college that Evidence That Demands a Verdict book I used to help get through philosophy class in a secular university. And it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I mean, the professor was out to get me. It was kind of like the movie, God’s Not Dead, where this professor just attacked me. And thanks to Josh, I was able to read that book and shoot back at the professor some evidence that demanded a verdict when it came to Christ.

The father side is more tender for me. And I’ll never forget one night as my parents were going through their divorce, my dad came to the house one evening while my mom was at work. And he was drunk and angry. And he sat down in a recliner and said he was going to wait for my mom. And he was going to kill her! That’s what his aim was. He had a big hammer with him and he started banging it against the wall and saying, out loud, “When your mom gets home I’m gonna kill her.” It was a frightful night. And one of my brothers slipped out the back and ran to call the police, and my sisters made me hide in another room so I was away from him, and eventually the police came and handcuffed him. And I got to the door just in time to watch the police put him in a squad car and drive away.

John: Mmm…

Jim: And that was the end of our family. That was it. And uh, you know, my mom kept on the move at that point, trying to keep us safe, away from him. Josh had a very similar situation. So, that, too, ties us together.

John: Hm.

Jim: Let me just remind you, if this program brought up some issues in your life, maybe from your early years with your mom or dad, we have caring, Christian counselors here that would be happy to spend some time with you on the phone, and then help you find a counselor in your area. It’s a free service that our supporters help us provide. And we don’t ask anything in return. We simply want to help you. We want to help you do better in the Lord, better emotionally, and mentally. Find that wholeness, that healing in Christ, so that you can be a better spouse and a better parent. And we use licensed, professionally trained counselors so that you can get good advice that is both biblical and clinically sound. It’s a very high-quality service that we provide here at the ministry.

In fact, here’s a great example of um, someone that was touched by our counseling team. He said: “A year ago I called because I had been unfaithful to my wife and hadn’t told a soul. Your counselor was caring and compassionate, but she was also very straight-forward about what I had to do. I needed someone to be firm with me and speak the Truth. “Focus on the Family” gave me that. I listened to her advice and confessed to my wife, and God has performed a miracle in our marriage. It is better now than ever before . . . and it all started with that call to your counselor. I pray that you will touch many other lives the way you have touched mine.

That’s amazing, isn’t it?

John: It is remarkable. But it happens day in and day out. The Lord uses that counseling team.

Jim: You know, it really does. And that’s one of the many marriages saved through the work of the Holy Spirit and the ministry of Focus on the Family. In fact, we’re helping to save over 450 marriages EVERY DAY!

But you know, doing all this costs money, and we are listener-supported. And because these costs are ongoing, every month, the best way you can be part of the team is by making a monthly pledge. That’s the kind of support that we need from you to continue to impact people’s lives.                                    

And when you make a monthly pledge of any amount, we’ll send you a CD of this complete program from Josh McDowell, so you can listen to it again or share it with a friend.

John: Just give us a call. Our number is 800, the letter A, and the word FAMILY. That’s 800-232-6459. Or make your monthly pledge online, and request that CD, at

And uh, be sure to look for the book that Jim mentioned. I’ve had it for years and years. It’s a terrific resource. It’s called, Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

Next time, you’ll hear more about Josh’s journey from skeptic to fully convinced believer in Jesus Christ.


Josh McDowell: It was the love of God that brought me to Christ, not the evidence. But it was the evidence that brought me to the love of God.

End of Teaser

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