Thursday, August 18, 2005

They shall be called the children of God (Gen 3 and beyond)

I suppose everyone has their favorite way to look at theology, their favorite way to envision God, you know. A lot of us use metaphors of things we know here on earth to explain a glimpse of what we understand to be going on in Heaven. Some metaphors work better than others. Some work really well in some particular areas, while others fall short. As I said a couple days ago, my personal favorite metaphor is the parent-child relationship. The Bible in fact calls God the "Father" often, and we are referred to as His "children". Sometimes it's just Israel; sometimes it's the church; sometimes all people. Being a half-Jewish Christian I get to fall in all three categories, but that's just a personal matter.

There are a few things I like about this metaphor. One of them is its flexibility. I once heard a sermon that explained the second coming of Christ in terms of a basketball game, believe it or not. It was actually a good metaphor at the time, but I hardly think basketball is going to work to explain all or even a good portion of what people need to understand about God. On the other hand, the parent-child relationship is very telling. You have small people of varying levels of maturity who are growing and learning constantly who are created by and under the authority of a larger being who is older and wiser and wants to look out for the best interest of the former. Granted, not everyone's relationship with their parents is this way. My father was somewhat emotionally abusive at times, and my stepfather was a high school dropout who knew a lot about car engines and construction work, but not much else. Every parent is less than perfect, but most of us can imagine an ideal parent. I like to imagine God that way, because it makes sense of a lot of things.

The other thing I like about this metaphor is now that I myself am a parent, I often get examples from my own life that help me understand God's view of me through a lens of my own view of my children. It's fascinating that hardly a day goes by that being a parent fails to teach me something about being a child of God.

Case in point: My wife had gone to church one weekend without me several months ago, so I missed the sermon, but it was about one of the great mysteries of Christianity, to both Christians and non-Christians alike. Christians just shrug their shoulders and accept it for the most part, while non-Christians tend to think the idea is ridiculous, and scoff at this basic idea from Christianity. What is it? That the one and only thing that will determine who gets to go to Heaven is whether or not you were kind to God's children in general, and particularly God's Son, Jesus Christ. The pastor had said something like, "Take my word, what God cares about more than anything is how you react to His Son."

Why is that? My wife left the sermon with the question emblazoned across her thoughts, unsure what it all really meant. Then she brought the kids home to where the cats were waiting. We have two cats, you see, a white one and a black one. (I always joked that we got a white and a black one so we could be assured of having nothing that we owned without visible cat hair on it; she didn't think it was so funny.) We'd had these cats for nearly five years before we had kids. The white one was sweet, friendly, gently playful and cuddly, and slept quietly at the foot of the bed at night. The black one hissed at strangers, tried to beat up the other cat, brought in nasty dead and/or alive animals it would find nearby, constantly knocked things off of shelves and tore up furniture, would climb repeatedly into the laps of people that it could tell didn't like it, and at night would climb up to the head of the bed and hit you in the face with its paw until you gave it the attention it wanted. As you might guess, the white one was our favorite, the black one was...tolerated.

Then we had kids. Twin girls. Two little toddler girls wandering around the house looking for things to play with all the time, and their favorite things to play with were the cats, even though it was a long time before they were able to figure out how to catch them. Now the white cat decided it wasn't going to have it, and when the girls get taken out of their cribs in the morning, it runs outside and disappears largely until bedtime. It hisses and scratches if cornered by the girls, and won't go near them if it can help it. The black cat? For some reason, it puts up with them! When they chase it, it stops and lets them catch up. It allows them to carry it around. Occasionally it will sit on their laps and it always lets them pet her. If they pull its tail (which they do a lot), it meows at them to warn them, and if they don't quit, it gives them a little bite that never breaks the skin. The thing is, the cats haven't changed the way they act towards my wife and me, but since we've had kids, the black one has become our favorite. Why? Because of the way it reacts to our kids. Why should God be so different? No, you may not like Christians, but let me tell you, don't make the mistake of being unkind to God's Son, Jesus Christ.

That example was a bit longer than I meant to have it, because it wasn't my main point at this time. My point was how the metaphor works for chapter three and so much more that follows in the rest of the Bible. Why is rebellion against God's law such an issue to God? Why can't we just do as we please? The answer is that it's because God's older, smarter, more powerful, and has our best interests in mind.

My children do this odd thing when we go to the local park. The park is separated from the street by some thick metal poles, not a fence, but a barrier to keep cars out of the park and protect the children. My girls sometimes do this thing where they will go to the first pole in the line, hug it, and actually say to the pole, "I love you!" and then move on to do the same thing all down the line. They're two years old, so while this is an absurd bit of behavior, I pretty much take it in stride, so long as they stay on the park side, and don't walk into the street. Sometimes when I come home from work, I say, "Hi girls, Daddy's home! Can I get a hug?" to which they reply with a shake of the head and run away laughing. It hurts my feelings a bit, you can imagine, that they'd more gladly lavish affection on a metal pole than Daddy sometimes, but I know it's two-year-old silliness, and not that they really like the poles more than me. But what if they were older, and it was a serious thing? What if they were, say, fourteen, and they said, "Dad, we've decided that this pole is our father now, and we're going to live at the park and let it take care of us from now on." That would be highly disturbing. My options would be to drag them back home and punish them in some way or let them stay at the park until they came to their senses and came home hungry, cold, and tired. Neither is a fun option.

God is looking down on earth at all of us, and He's our Father. He created us, He gave us everything we have, He loves us. Some of us, however, are saying no, I don't need you, Dad, I love this other God, and I'm going to let him take care of me; or even, I don't need anyone, I'll take care of myself. God is saying, "There is nobody who loves you more than I do, nobody who knows how to take care of you more than I do, nobody who is more willing to look out for your interests and help you than Me. Why would you want to settle for second-best?"

In chapter three, this is the beginning of this sort of thing. For the first time ever, the idea is planted in someone's head, "What do I need God for? Why should I trust Him?" Throughout history, starting with this story, people have made the wrong choice far too many times, not really knowing what they were rejecting. But some have made a better choice:

John 6
67 Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away?
68 Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.


Anonymous said...

Being a parent really gives you a new perspective on God, doesn't it?

The one I'm struggling with now is that my 4 yr old is playing with the concept of manipulation. She is a keen observer of interpersonal dynamics already and has started experimenting with things I know she has seen kids for pre-school do to get their way with their parents.

My least favorite of these is when she tells me she 'only loves Daddy'. This is usually when I've had to discipline her or say 'no'. It hurts, but I know why she's doing it and can just not react. DH hates it when she does this and tells her she is not being nice. But at the same time it's hard to be really upset with a little girl saying that she adores you more than anyone, even if that means she's hurting someone else you love.

I wonder sometimes if there isn't some analogy there for people who love God the Father but reject Jesus.

Anonymous said...

The whole God-father analogy works rather well. However, there is one thing I feel that I should say about it.

The ultimate goal of any parent is to prepare the children to live without the parent's help. It's those times when the child realizes that you stopped pushing the bike 10 seconds ago when you feel the proudest. So what would be the equivalent when talking about God?

Would it be when we can be good without the Bible telling us how?
Would it be when we can find the truth on our own without God telling it to us Himself?
Would it be when we no longer desire a literal eternal life in Heaven but are content with a metaphorical eternal life as a memory?

Brucker said...

Those are some very difficult philosophical questions that I won't pretend to know the answer to, but I will share a few of my personal views on the matter.

I think God is looking for a certain maturity level in people that will allow some amount of independance, but it's not always clear what that is, nor when we get there. I think God wants us to become like Him, but it's a process, and one that takes a very long time, probably (in the Christian view) more than a lifetime.

Some people have pointed out that God gave the Israelites hundreds of Laws to govern their lives, but then Jesus said that you could sum up all of those laws in two: (1) love God and (2) love other people. I think that's showing a certain level of maturity there, that God trusts us to live by general principles rather than hard-and-fast rules.

I think the problem is that both in our temporal lives and our spiritual lives, we have a tendency to think we're more mature than we truly are. A lot of people think maybe we're come to the place where as a society, we are spiritual adults, ready to cut God loose and make our own rules. I tend to see us as teenagers, the sort to think we've arrived at full maturity, but we're not quite there yet.

I wonder whether there is ever truly a point of arrival. Yes, maybe there comes a point when God takes off the training wheels and lets go of the bike, but that doesn't mean we're ever taking the thing on the freeway.

No metaphor is perfect, but I do like that bike one. Most people get to the point in life where they can ride a bike alone, but we can't all run the tour de France or scale a mountainside. To do truly great things, most of us need more than our own power.

Na said...
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Na said...

I have a problem with your analogy, and I think you have painted yourself quite badly in order to try and make it work.

If your children were 14 and actually said in all seriousness (not in at crazy belief that the poles were anything other than what they were, as this would call for concerns about mental health) that they would prefer the cold poles in the park as father rather than you, so much that they would rather camp out in the park than go back home to you. As hurt as you may feel, you really should be looking at what you have done as a parent to cause such a reaction.
The idea that you would simply want to punish them or let them suffer is very good example of what kind of parent the of god the Bible seems to be, but it's not a good example of how a parent should be.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe you are at all like this. But I think this story has been formed by trying to take what you believe to be the attributes of God and justify them by placing them in the context of a father/child relationship.