Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fatherhood (or, What It's Like to Be God)

(Below is a devotional column I recently wrote for my hometown newspaper, the Calais Advertiser.)
My children are infuriating. They are also, quite possibly, the three most adorable people on the entire planet. (I have three kids, at 5 years old, 3, and 1). Every parent, I suspect, knows this dynamic. Our children become the center of outpourings of love that we didn’t even know we had within us. Not only do they change our lives, they change us. Before I had kids, I was a pretty stolid guy—I never let down my guard in public to dance, make silly faces, or act out impromptu scenes. Now that I’m a parent, I do all those things. My love for my kids draws me out and makes me join in their games, because they shimmer with delight when I chase them, or dance with them, or pretend I’m a dinosaur.
But, at the same time, our kids still drive us crazy. They’re experts at running our emotional reserves down to empty while maintaining just enough spectacular cuteness to keep us from throwing in the towel. Our kids have no emotional boundaries and a tremendously forgetful grasp of the house rules. They find it perfectly rational to draw on the walls or splash their hands in the toilet or stand on the table and spin the light fixtures as fast as they can go. And they can’t understand why we don’t see the appeal of those delightful activities.
I suspect that our relationship with God is something like this. Those of us who have accepted Christ as Lord have been adopted into God’s family. But many of us may have grown up with an idea of God that saw him as a glowering judge, keeping meticulous track of our every transgression. Or, even if we knew that he was a “Father,” he was at least a stern sort of father, the kind of father that expected perfection, was never impressed with our efforts, and was always disappointed at our failings. A lot of Christians have lived a lot of their lives with a guilt complex, because they have this view of God.
But that’s not actually what God is like. If we could see our faith-relationship the way God sees it, it would look a lot like what we feel about our own children. Just like my kids, you and I do a lot of things that go against God’s “house rules”—rules put in place not to keep us from having fun, but simply to keep us safe. Just like my kids, you and I have trouble putting into practice the good lessons we’ve learned a hundred times over, and instead keep repeating our old mistakes. If God were a human father, no doubt we would drive him crazy. But, thankfully for us, God is infinite, and his emotional reserves can never be depleted. He cannot be worn out by our sins, because no amount of sin can even come close to matching the endless supply of his love. Even when my kids have worn me out by the end of a day, I have never ceased to love them, not for a moment. Even in my occasional disappointment at their errors, I know that they are young and prone to such mistakes—indeed, it would be impossible to expect perfection of them. And each day, even on the tough days, I never question my love for them. That’s how God sees us. He understands that we are weak and fallible and prone to selfish sins. He understands that it would be impossible for us in our present condition to be completely without sin. And so, despite our errors and failings, God loves us. In Christ, his love has even absolved our sins. His love is as far beyond my simple fatherly love as the universe is bigger than the earth. There is nothing that we could possibly do that would make God stop loving us, or even to detract one small mark from the measure of his love for us. As the songwriter Michael Card put it, “He cannot love more, and He will not love less.”