Faith in the father

I was standing by the ocean when I heard a child’s shrill cry of distress. A toddler waddling incautiously at … Continued

I was standing by the ocean when I heard a child’s shrill cry of distress. A toddler waddling incautiously at the edge of the surf had suddenly been knocked over by an unexpected wave. I ran over, picked her up, and carried her to land. She stood shaking and crying from the fright she had undergone. I knelt in front of her, put my hands on her arms, and tried to assure her that she was all right. A man came running quickly from farther up the beach. As he picked up his child, he said to me, “Thank you for your parenting.”

There is an adage that “you can choose your friends, but you can’t choose your family.” Obviously that’s true on a biological level. Nevertheless, we do choose to accept or to reject our genetic relatives. As we enter adult life, we either appreciate them and adopt their values and relate to them as friends, or we reject them and go in a different direction or some combination of both. And, on the other hand, we can choose to act as parents and children and siblings to others than our biological family.

A colleague told me about his college-age daughter who spent her junior year in Chile, and came back talking about her “Mom” and “Dad” in Santiago. My friend was not jealous; he did not feel slighted. He felt his fatherhood was not diminished by being shared with another, but was augmented by it. He was grateful and delighted that his child had found another father who loved her and helped her grow, and that she appreciated it and responded with love. This seems to happen quite frequently with exchange students, who really become part of the families they live with abroad. I experienced something similar in my younger life, when I spent many years away from home, and was “adopted” into other families. And on the other hand, although I have no children, I receive Father’s Day cards every year from former students, from children of friends, from people I have in some way “parented,” without taking them from their natural families.

There is good theological reason for the extension of our familial relations. St. Paul speaks of “the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name” or, perhaps more accurately, “from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:15). But for Paul God is “Father” not only in being the source of all creation, but also in having “adopted” us as God’s children, who live by God’s own “spirit.” And if we have the same spirit as God, we must behave as God does, adopting others into our deepest relations of love.

The metaphor of fatherhood, of course, is not exclusive. Indo-European cultures commonly have a heavenly “father” god as their supreme deity (Dyeus Pitr = Zeus Pat r = Deus Pater = Jupiter). But the mythic patriarch is not the whole of divinity; he is complemented by G -m t r, Earth-Mother. Together they are “Nature.” But when Jews or Christians or Muslims or Hindus speak of God, they mean not merely the male principle or generator of the cosmos, nor its nurturing mother, but a being that transcends nature and the world. That transcendent being, as source and lover of the world, may be thought of as Father or Mother. (The Bhagavad-Gita extends the metaphor even farther, praying that God be to us “As a father to a son, as a friend to a friend, as a lover to a beloved” [XI:44]).

To think of God as our parent, and as the source of our parenting, has enormous implications. Those who are used to the metaphor may overlook the audacity of the claim it makes. The Qur’an puts it plainly: “The Jews and the Christians say, ‘We are the children of Allah, and his beloved.’ Say [to them], ‘Then why does He punish you for your sins? No, you are [only] human beings, His creatures'” (Surah 5:18).

To put it bluntly, if God is our father, why don’t we show it? We don’t choose to be created; but to have God as our parent is indeed a choice. It means choosing to have all others as our family; to be parents and children and siblings to each other, without limitation.

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  • Rongoklunk

    To put it bluntly God is just as real as Thor, wouldn’t you say? They share the same behavior. Rama and Vishnu too, and the thousands of other Gods . They never show themselves.. They never do anything. They never answer prayers. They never get involved when disasters happen. There is not a single speck of evidence that says that any God ever existed, and thousands of invented Gods as evidence that the ancients were forever making them up. Including yours.

  • lepidopteryx

    “To put it bluntly, if God is our father, why don’t we show it? We don’t choose to be created; but to have God as our parent is indeed a choice. It means choosing to have all others as our family; to be parents and children and siblings to each other, without limitation.”

    I can do that without claiming a supernatural being as my parent.
    God did not provide the sperm responsible for half my DNA (nor the egg responsible for the other half). He did not nurse me, did not raise me, did not discipline me, did not toilet train me, did not teach me to throw a baseball, fly a kite, cast a lure, or ride a bike. He did not teach me to treat other beings with respect and courtesy, The two mortal human beings I call Mom and Dad did all that.

  • northernharrier

    Father Viladesau: I have no interest and no belief in a God or gods being either of my parents. I don’t know why you would assume I do, unless you are in the habit of assuming that everyone shares your religious beliefs.

  • DRJJJ

    So, we’re all just idol making machines evolved by chance/luck, that crawled out of pond scum, evolved into monkeys and then man with no creator or hope?? Good luck with that false religion and no thanks! In God we should trust!

  • hrobert02

    DRJJJ- you can keep trusting in your god who allows 1000’s of young children around the world to die each day. You’re probably Christian which means your god kisses off more than 2/3 of the planet who are not and dooms them to hell. Good luck with your false religion!

  • Rongoklunk

    Yep JJJ you got it right. Biology shows just that. One-cell lifeforms developed into two-cell lifeforms which continued to evolve this way that way always depending on the environment for millions and millions of years until we happened. It makes better sense than having to drag a god into it, which – we now know – is hilariously wrong, and even childish. Since Darwin there is no place for God in our understanding of the real world and how it works. None at all. He exists between the ears of his believers, and nowhere else.