why having a child hasn’t taught me anything about God

A little while back, a friend asked me what having a child had taught me about God.

It’s a common question — and, given how frequently preachers refer to their children and experience of parenthood, seemingly quite legitimate.

Now, I’m sure my friend didn’t mean it this way but I object to the idea that my experience of having and beginning to raise a child should somehow give me special insight into God. As though I can now ‘get’ his being a father now that I’m a father or something.

I’ll be the first to admit that having a child has taught me — and will no doubt continue to teach me — all sorts of things.

On the one hand, our son’s desperate crying whenever he’s hungry is a pretty good picture of what we’re so often like with God. Even though he’s proven it again and again, we’re still infants who can’t seem to see past our immediate need or pain to trust God’s provision for us.

On the other hand, the fact that our son often “acts up” when he’s tired, hungry, or in pain, has reminded me that there’s a pretty big element of this to our sinning. We hurt others (more often than not) because we’re hurting ourselves.

So why do I object to the idea that having a child would teach me about God?

For one thing, this way of thinking would seem to exclude any non-parents from a true and deep understanding of God.

For another, the kind of father God the Father is, he is eternally. Unlike me, he never became a father. The difference between God’s fatherhood and mine can’t be erased.

And, ultimately, isn’t the only way to gain an ‘inside’ knowledge of God as father the way the Lord Jesus provides? As he invites us by his grace and achievement for us — in the power of the Spirit — to join him in calling God “Father”.

Perhaps I’m overreacting?

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3 comments

  1. I hear you, but here comes rebuttal.

    Re excluding non parents, there’s always exclusion. Making your point is like saying no one can have any particular insight into God because of any of their circumstances, unless those circumstances are universally experienced. No one’s saying you can only get a ‘true and deep’ understanding of God by being a father (or mother, for that matter), but that like any human experience, made as we are in the image of God, can deepen our understanding of God, mediated by what we understand in Scripture.

    Re the differences between your fatherhood and God’s, I’ll refer you to the Jesus Storybook Bible on that one. 😉

    But seriously, there is a difference, but God has chosen to give us human parentage as one means of understanding his relationship to his Son and therefore to us. Jesus himself uses the comparison to teach what God is like in Matt 7: “which one of you, if his son asks for bread…”

    1. Thanks Ben. You’re right. I’m probably pushing things to extremes — but only because I’ve heard it pushed to extremes the other way.

      I guess the key is probably what you say about evaluating the insights our experiences yield by what we understand from the Bible (which is surely the very thing Jesus is doing in the passage you mention — comparing God’s generosity to our experience of parenting in order to say that there’s no comparison!). Maybe this is the way Jesus gives us inside knowledge of God — neither in opposition to any knowledge available from creation nor in simple ratification of our (sin-tainted) experience but in redeeming and perfecting it?

      And, yes, my liking of certain turns of phrase in The Jesus Storybook Bible does undermine my ferocity somewhat…

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