God the Parent

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The image of God as a parent can be disconcerting. 

There are those of us who have seen the storm of a father’s discipline. For me it calls to mind proverbs 28:3 “A destitute ruler who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops.” Rain is supposed to be life giving. Deep in our parched souls, we know that our father’s love should fall on us in such a way as to call out the life hidden within us. 

But sometimes, what we get is a destitute ruler, and the very thing we long for, turns destructive. Our tender life is beat down under the torrents.

Isaiah 66:13 says “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you,” but there are those of us who have experienced the devastation of a nurturer with nothing to give. In our distress, we were not comforted. The bible uses imagery like being hidden in the shelter of her wings, but that can be hard to imagine when the bosom that should have comforted and nourished you was poisonous.

If you being evil know how to give good gifts to your children…

For some of us, the only thing we got from our parents was baggage, and it is so hard to reconcile our image of God and what we have experienced with our earthly parents.

God picked those images, though, because they resonate powerfully, even more so for those who still long for a Good Father or a Comforting Mother. 

I cannot get out of my head the image of the father in the parable of Two Sons (okay, we call it the Prodigal Son, but how might we see it differently if the focus was on both sons? It might be easier to see a story of two sons who took their father’s blessing for granted, but only one who realized it in the end). In a society that valued honor and dignity, we see a father running to his son   the son, who by asking for his inheritance early was, in that culture, saying “I’m tired of waiting for you to die,” and then went on to dishonor his father’s name and squander is money. 

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him. Luke 15:20

Even far away, he could recognize his baby, and he could not restrain himself. “He ran to his son.” He would have had to undignify himself and lift his robes to run. When he got to his son he, “threw his arms around him and kissed him.” All before the son had done a single thing to right his wrong. There is nothing here that is transactional. It is all about a father who loves his son and is beside himself to have his boy back.

“This son of mine was lost and now is found.” Luke 15:24

This is the Good Father.

Just as powerful are the images of a mother with her small child. Even if you did not experience it, it’s probably one that you have seen: The baby is crying, and the mother picks up her child, “you shall be carried upon her hip, and bounced upon her knees,” as in Is 66:12. When that doesn’t work, she provides from her very self what the baby needs. “I was to them like those who lifts infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them,” Hosea 11:3. Finally, the baby calms, and after feeding, falls into a deep, peaceful sleep. “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you.” Is 66:13 

Our society can be averse to breastfeeding imagery, but God chose this evocative picture. It draws to mind the face of a baby, streaked with tears, searching for something to calm its ache, and a mother with a corresponding ache to supply all that is needed. She holds her baby long after it’s fallen asleep.

This is the Comforting Mother.

This may not have been your mother or the father you had growing up, but it is the one who has adopted you. Let the images sink in. Let the Father saturate your soul with his embrace. Let the Mother nourish and comfort you.

This is our God.

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