God the Father, Part 2
Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Isaiah 64:8
There is a profound but subtle point in referring to God as Father. It is that for there to be a father, there must also be children. In other words, for the reference to hold there must be a parent-child relationship. This, then, is the characteristic most overlooked about God – that we are in close relationship to God. It is our choice to acknowledge and pursue that relationship or not, but either way, we are related.
My daughter, Grace, was born seven weeks before her due date. She was very small, even by infant standards. I could literally hold Grace comfortably in one hand, with her bottom at the base of my palm and the tops of my fingers securing her head. It was a reverential experience to hold this tiny, beautiful, perfect human being in my hand. I was an enormous being by comparison – stronger and infinitely more powerful. She, in her weakness, however, held complete power over my heart. Much as I vowed to protect both of my children from harm, they got sick, scrapped their knees, and had their hearts broken. For my part, I suffered alongside them, albeit not physically. In one of his Living School lectures, James Finley said, “God is the presence that spares us from nothing, even while it sustains us in everything.” This is the promise from our divine parent – not that bad things will never happen to us, but that we will never be alone in our suffering.
To refer to God as Father causes many of our brothers and sisters to turn away because their earthly experience with one or both parents was so painful. A parent-child relationship is not a relationship of equals. At least in a child’s early years, their father is probably the biggest, strongest being they know. That strength can be used to protect and provide security for the child, or that strength can be used to inflict unspeakable suffering. Too many parents are so wounded and broken themselves they cannot allow their child to have any emotional power over them – they cannot get in touch with their natural protective, nurturing instincts. Often, their own abusive parents victimized them. Some parents use their power over children to strike back at the world that struck them in their most vulnerable state. It is a heartbreaking and difficult cycle to break. The worst of the abusers end up in jail, but the abused children are still left to abuse their children one day unless and until they are healed in a way that transforms their pain.
It is the inequality of the relationship and the vast power discrepancy that makes a parental figure especially intimidating. It is difficult to feel safe if there is any hint they may use their power to harm us. Many times in the Bible we are exhorted to fear God. I think one purpose of this is to recognize the immensity of God in relation to us. The parent always has the upper hand, and we are always vulnerable in their presence. Trust is required if there is to be any sense of mutual giving and receiving.
The reference to God as Father cannot be dismissed as irrelevant just because many of us earthly fathers fall short in caring for our children. That we are in a relationship with God, one where the awesomeness of God looks upon us as an enamored parent lovingly gazes upon their precious child, is an image we are clearly to discern from scripture. The good parent uses their greater power to protect, nurture, teach, and empower the child. They are loving, patient, and kind. They defend their children against as many threats as possible. This is supposed to be the norm, not the exception. The parental model is God the Father/Mother, not because God keeps bad things from happening to good people, but because God the Parent never abandons and never stops loving his/her children. A child may not understand why their parent loves them, but they know when they are loved. A child cannot earn parental love, but they can respond to that love in loving ways. A loved child becomes a loving parent, and this is one intended outcome of any parent-child relationship, including our relationship with God the Father.
Note: this is the 31st in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God.