One remarkable thing about being a father is the perspective it gives on my own doubts of God. While out shopping Y-dran would come across the perfect Christmas gift, he had to have, and then persistently remind us not to forget. His need for control over what he got really could take away from the whole joy of giving and was a matter of his trust. He is not sure of my ability or will to give him what is good.
Jesus used the analogy of a parent giving to their children to describe God’s disposition towards His creation:
Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!(Matthew 7:9-11 NIV)
It is fun to see a child’s face light up when they receive a gift and it is likely because of this kind of feedback that we are so happy to give. A good father wants to satisfy all of the needs of their children. They want to give them the best and would never torment them by giving them bad things. It is especially easy for me to give to Y-dran as a reward for his helpful spirit. I would give to him regardless, but it is much easier to give when he is being helpful or well-behaved. I’m reluctant to give anything when he has an entitled attitude or makes demands. I mean, I really don’t want to raise a son who can’t wait or ever hear the word “no” the first time. Teaching him what is right is the best gift I can give.
My Father’s Son?
Just months into being a father I can see my own dad coming out and I don’t like it. It is far too easy to greet inquiries with annoyance and not give the attention a child needs. He really does know when I’m not making him a priority in my life. Sure, we will remind him that we put the food on the table and shelter over his head. However, to be honest, a very small portion of my income goes to him and I would need shelter for myself even if I did not have a family to care for. And the truth is that I can be thrifty with money to the point of miserliness.
I have been at war with myself since bringing Y-dran into my life. I’m really trying to be rid of the old man that lives in me, the one who makes others feel inadequate, that sees the financial bottom line as more important than family time, and to be the father who is truly self-sacrificial and involved in a meaningful way rather than merely playing the role. But the reality is that the apple does not fall far from the tree and I am my father’s son. I will need to battle it out with my own selfishness and self-righteous defense mechanisms.
Stepfather of Jesus
To some, the idea of raising another man’s son might be a deal breaker. There was a story from earlier this year about a 5-year-old boy, in China, left behind at his kindergarten after the man raising him as a son found out that he was not the biological father.
Joseph deliberated the same thing when he found out that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was pregnant:
This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.(Matthew 1:18-19 NIV)
Jesus, according to the Jewish writings of the Talmud, was an illegitimate child, the bastard son of a Roman soldier, and Mary a whore. And Joseph, prior to a special visit from angels, would have every reason in the world to assume the same. Even after being assured that the child was of the Holy Spirit, the stepfather of Jesus would no doubt have had to face the whispers of the scandal. The angel didn’t visit his entire village to tell them and this was not like our times either when it is out of wedlock pregnancy is common.
Fortunately, for me, I’ve not had a struggle with the prospect of being a stepfather and, if anything, it was the prospect of being Y-drans father that kept me from giving up on the relationship after over three years of being apart and waiting. It is one thing for two adults to break off their own romantic engagement, quite another to leave a boy who already calls you “daddy” behind. I was willing to fight for the opportunity to earn the trust and love of Y-dran. If anything, he was the best reason to marry his mother.
Our Father in Heaven
Many social conservatives tend towards the harshness of a Chinese man who abandoned a toddler for not being his own. But this is not an attitude that is reflective of God:
He is a father to the fatherless and an advocate for widows. God rules from his holy dwelling place. God settles in their own homes those who have been deserted; he frees prisoners and grants them prosperity.(Psalms 68:5-6a)
Joseph, in taking Jesus called “the son of Mary” by skeptics in Mark 6:3 (an interesting word choice to say the least) as his son was reflective of the fatherly love of God. Joseph shouldered this wrongful disgrace the same way that God, despite being Holy, is willing to bear the weight of our sin and even call us his own children.
If a man knows the significance of this, of St Paul’s declaration that believers become the sons of God by adoption (Romans 8:15; 9:26; Galatians 3:26) would he ever deny any child an opportunity to have a father?
There is a sense in which we get back what we give, that there is reciprocity or a kind of karma. If we are like the servant who buried his talents in fear or the one that refused to forgive another a debt after being pardoned, we will get the unpleasant or judgmental side of God. We will get what we expect or demonstrate in our own actions. Therefore, if we want grace for our own sins, to call God our Father, then we must put that old man to death, and be a father figure like the father we never had. No one had a perfect earthly father, some have been abandoned by the man who should have been that man, but we can all be that source of structure, stability, and abiding love if we choose to be like our heavenly Father.
Why Believe In Sky Daddy?
One of the most intriguing things about the world that we are in is its symmetry and scalability. There are repeating patterns, from the Nautilus shell to the spiral arms of the galaxy, that are amazingly paralleled in the language of mathematics and yet we really know nothing. Science is not about knowing, it is only ever about probabilities, we can expect certain things based on prior observation. And, in that light, the phrase “on earth as it is in heaven” can take another meaning.
The idea of God is ridiculed today and for good reason. Many who claim to believe in God are completely petty and selfish people, quarreling over buttons on blouses, divided by political ideology and denomination, and full of self-righteousness or pride. If God exists, then why do Christians live on their own strength and without faith?
It could be that our Father, God, is some kind of invention or an imaginary stand-in used to represent an ideal. In other words, an Uncle Sam or Rosie the Riveter type of character there as a special example to bring out our best effort. We know well today that people can believe almost anything, we have those who pretend to be animals and others who take on identities that do not match with the physical reality of their bodies. So with all of this absurdity on display around us is it not possible that our traditional beliefs could be delusional as well?
Could God be the perfect dad to make up for the deficiencies of our own dad or provide us with a measure of security when our own father dies? Or a Santa character, watching if we’re naughty or nice, and a manipulation tool used to keep children in line?
Speaking of Santa…
The Real St. Nick
The Orthodox celebrate St Nicholas. He is not a fat and jolly man dressed in a red suit who lives in the North Pole with elves and a sleigh pulled by reindeer. He was a bishop, in Asia Minor, who drop bags of coins into the window of a home at night to help a poor father pay the dowry for his daughters and rescued three girls from prostitution. So, he gave gifts, and yet he wasn’t giving trinkets to satisfy the demands of spoiled children. No, he was a man led by Christian compassion and making a difference in his time.
How a holy man becomes the guy crying out “ho ho ho” is truly beyond me.
A centuries-old game of telephone, I suppose?
But it does show us that there is something that is real behind even this most distorted and commercialized image. In other words, the atheist using the myth of Santa Claus as a reason to dismiss God is ignorant. The myth is based on truth. Many have rejected only a false image or caricature of God. They run with “the man upstairs” kind of trope, but the God of Scripture is beyond comprehension and not a mere man.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.(Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV)
Many simply have the wrong concept of God. They have rejected the deity of their hypocritical parents or that of judgmental religious fundamentalists and the guy on television always asking for donations. They see God as the petty tyrant, always out to get in the way of their enjoyment of life or trying to destroy them, and not the Creator who is good and loves mankind.
Daddy Doesn’t Love Me
It doesn’t take long, as a parent, to realize that children need some guidance for their own good. If Y-dran were left completely to his own devices he would spend his entire day watching mindless content. The tablet wars have been raging in our home as we try to reign in the entertainment monster. And that is the worst part, while sucked into the vortex he changes from attentive and helpful to a different child. This morning he became extremely upset after the WiFi doesn’t keep up with his media demands.
Y-dran may believe that we limit his time and that we refuse to get a better home internet plan because we don’t care. But what he doesn’t realize is that the tablet is a parent’s easy way out. If we actually didn’t care we would just let him play or watch endlessly and without any restrictions. Sure, the end result would be a young person not prepared for success in life, and yet we would at least temporarily spare ourselves of the need to deal with his temper tantrums, right? Of course, we are thinking of his long-term good which is why we deny his access despite his current wishes.
We can see unanswered prayers as neglect or we can believe that our not always getting what we want is truly the benevolence of our Creator who sees beyond our very limited perspective. I mean, maybe there is no God, or maybe God is malicious and mean like some contend, but how will either one of those beliefs help us to do better in our life? I believe in the Father who gives good gifts to His children because that’s the father that I want to be—even when they don’t understand my rules or appreciate my love.