A son honors his father. If then I am a father, where is the honor due me? says the Lord. —Malachi 1:6
A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. —Matthew 21:28-29
Today’s readings, among so many others in Scripture, portray God as a parent. In Malachi, the Lord describes himself in such terms, and in Matthew, Jesus uses a parable of fathers and sons to raise questions about humanity’s interactions with God.
How do you feel when you think of God as your heavenly parent?
From what I’ve gathered, the image seems to land differently with each of us. For good or ill, our experiences with our own parents, the examples of parenting we’ve observed, and being parents ourselves, all influence what we feel when we address God as “Father” or “Mother.”
If interactions between parents and children in your life have been marked by warmth, listening, understanding, patience, and forgiveness, thinking of God as your parent may give you deeper insight into God’s goodness. On the other hand, trusting in God’s goodness may be harder for you if these interactions have been marked by coldness, absence, neglect, estrangement, grudges, shame, or abandonment.
Here are a few ways thinking of God as my heavenly parent is helpful for me:
- God is personal. God is not a distant being or some inaccessible force. Like a parent, God is present with us. God hears us and speaks to us. God is one with whom you and I can have a relationship. What’s more, like a good parent, God wants that relationship.
- God is the one I rely on. A child needs care. A good parent provides safety, nourishment, guidance, wisdom, and all the other things a child needs to survive and thrive. When I think of God as a parent, I am reminded of where to turn for the things I need most.
- God has authority over me. When I remember that I am the child in this relationship, I am humbled. I remember that my best choice is to be obedient. God is not a dictator or a tyrant; God is a loving parent who knows what’s best for me, and whether I understand fully or not, following God’s instructions is my best choice.
- God loves me because I am God’s. God takes joy in who I am because God made me. God enjoys seeing me grow and develop and make good choices. God’s love is unconditional.
Take a moment to think of an example of what you’d consider bad parenting. Now, just toss that image out the window when you think of God as “Father” or “Mother.” It’s not helpful. Now, take a moment to think of the best parent you know. Then consider this: God’s parenting is a zillion times better than that. God is more loving, more patient, more invested, more capable, wiser, kinder, a better provider, and a better teacher than the best parent you can imagine.
Ultimately, no single image—even a really powerful one—can capture the fullness of who God is. Because God is bigger than anything we can comprehend, our ways of describing and conceiving of God will always have limits. While these images help us, we have to remember that God is always better, fuller, bigger, deeper, and just more than anything we have experienced or can imagine.
Even the best people will let us down. We will let people down. God never will. Remember this: before you are anyone else’s, you are God’s child. That’s your first identity. Nothing can change that God wants you to know him, rely on him, and trust his authority. God takes joy in who you are and in who you’re becoming as you seek to follow him.