Our Father In Heaven

My friend Nat has three boys in their 20s. It scares me to death to talk to him. His sons are making decisions now that will affect the rest of their lives. They are facing situations that require wisdom and virtue and nuanced thought.

My kids can't decide which pants to wear.

As a parent, I feel responsible to help my kids mature, to grow in character and in capacity to face life's challenges. It occurs to me that God has faced the same challenges with his children.

Last week at church, my pastor explained some of the theological implications of the Last Supper. Jesus was replacing old ways with new. He put himself in the place of the paschal lamb; he is the final sacrifice. He put himself in place of Moses; he is leading the new exodus. He put himself in place of the passover feast; his body and blood sustain us. And he put himself in place of God's first position as our heavenly father — the lawgiver.

God's first interaction with humans (after he made us from dust and whatnot) was to give us a command: don't eat this fruit. In the years between Adam and Jesus, those heavenly laws had expanded to more than 600. The law was a big deal to the culture where Jesus ministered. And Jesus put himself in its place. He said, "A new law I give you: love one another."

What does this have to do with parenting? I think our experience of parenting reflects God's experience with the human race. We parents have to start our relationships with our children with rules focused on behavior: Don't touch that. Don't eat that. Don't hit your sister with that. Our kids don't always understand our rules, and sometimes they rebel against them. They have to learn to trust their parents to know more than they do, and to have their best interests at heart. But we don't want them to stay there. A child must grow not only to trust her parents, but to learn the reasons behind her parents' rules. The goal of parenting isn't just to breed obedient children, but to train up children beyond childish lessons — to become co-adults.

God has done the same thing. The entire sweep of the Bible is from law to grace, from a focus on behavior to a focus on our hearts, from adolescence to maturity, from the concrete to the abstract, from certainty to mystery. We, as a species, have been parented. We have been discipled into deeper understanding of God and his purposes in the world. We are called to higher, nobler, wiser responses to our Father than dumb obedience out of fear.

Of course there is one critical difference between our parenting and God's: we will never replace him. We will never put God in a celestial assisted living home and become our own gods to our own little creatures. We will forever be his children. He will always be wiser, higher, and better than us. And that's a good thing because sometimes we face decisions and situations that are, frankly, much too big for us — decisions that affect lives and fortunes and futures and kingdoms. And, if we're honest, some days we can't even decide which pants to wear.

Ryan SandersComment