Written by Jenn Ratzlaff
Good Morning – First let me say that I have no special training for standing up here. I have never even been to Bible camp, let alone any form of Bible school. I have not studied Hebrew, I don’t speak Greek. I have no special insight into the Bible except for what the Lord has seen fit to reveal to me.
But, The first rule of writing is to “write what you know” so in thinking on this message, I was inspired by what I know best, or at least what I spend most of my time doing . . . being a parent.
I think that even people without kids themselves would agree that having children is a life changing experience. I have come to realize that many of the changes that come over a new parent are about a change in perspective. As a parent you can no longer consider yourself first. Where you may have previously chosen a vehicle based on colour and speed, now its safety rating becomes of ultimate priority. Your perspective on everyday items changes also. Stairs, previously innocuous means of transport from one floor to another suddenly appear to be a death trap to be barricaded and secured the minute your baby starts to move. Scissors and knives, generally perceived as useful tools, can seemingly change into dangerous implements that could sever a finger, or an ear, or Poke your Eye out!
It’s all about perspective.
Not all of my perspective changes have made the world a scarier place. I have found that through the lens of my parent perspective I see much of the Bible in a different light. With parent-hood comes the deeper understanding of God as Father, God as parent.
I’m going to work a little chronologically backwards, as there is very little reference to God as Father in the Old Testament; some of my research suggests that this may be because neighbouring communities around God’s people may have used the Father imagery in their pagan worship, and in rites that the Israelites would not have wanted associated with the Great I Am. Though there is plenty of parent imagery in the Old Testament, it is with Jesus that we repeatedly hear God referred to as Father. Much ink has been used in discussion of the patriarchal image of God as male, I would propose that for Jesus, God is father, simply because women give birth to babies, the female parent is mother, therefore the other parent is Father. God is not human, and barring Jesus, He has no corporeal form so no way to distinguish Him as male or female. I think that the correct reference would be non-corporeal-omnipotent-parental-unit, but as that is quite a mouthful I think it’s best to follow Jesus lead and refer to God as Father.
So, God the Father. Through Jesus we hear this perspective, he uses the reference over 150 times in the Gospels, often as My Father, a direct ownership of His parentage, but though Jesus is the biological son, He makes it clear that The Father holds all his adopted children dear as well. In Matthew he teaches us that The Father feeds the birds and clothes the lilies of the field, and are we not much more valuable to our Father than flowers and flocks. Jesus tells us that “In my Father’s house are many rooms” and that He himself is going to prepare them. The Adopted children will be welcomed by the Father and the Son. And when He teaches us to pray, as in the Matthew verses we have just heard, He teaches us to pray to Our Father, giving ownership of God as parent to us all.
In The Sermon on the Mount. the same section of the Bible where Jesus teaches us to pray, Jesus also talks extensively about the laws, the laws he has come to fulfill, the “rules” if you will. This isn’t the only place Jesus talks about the law, but this is often the place people think of, especially as He sets the bar so high on so many key issues, almost impossibly high, but thinking of the parent perspective perhaps its not so harsh. As I parent I find myself saying quite often, “Mummy didn’t make that rule because she’s mean and doesn’t want you to have any fun, I made it to <insert reason here>. Very often the reason boils down to – “to keep you safe”. So you don’t pinch your fingers in that door, so you don’t hit your head, so you don’t suffer emotional suffering, whichever it is, it amounts to keeping them safe. As a parent, it’s not enough to tell a small child, “don’t trip”, that is not a rule they can maintain, but we may tell them “don’t run on the sidewalk” a seemingly impossible task for a small child, but we know that if they are running on the sidewalk and they trip, they will have more scrapes and boo boos than if they are running on the grass. If we look at the expanded rules Jesus gives simply as ways to keep us safe, then you can realise that the new bar set by Jesus – murder is not just killing, judgement for that falls when you are angry with your brother or sister; adultery is not just the act, but even looking at another lustfully will be considered adultery – this new standard is to stop us from going down the path in the first place. Setting the bar high is a parent tool to try desperately to keep us safe.
And to be honest, I’m pretty sure God knows we’re going to fault short sometimes. I have a friend who laid out a contract with her teenage son, a list of all the rules in her house, and the consequences for breaking them, then she told him, read this over, and don’t sign it unless you have also read the consequences, because you’re a teenager, so you’re going to break some of these rules, so I don’t want you freaking out about the consequences when that happens. Sometimes you can hear the voice of God in those around you.
I had a personal example of the parent perspective this week, when it comes to the following the rules, specifically the Sabbath, not Sabbath – Sunday as it were, but more Sabbath as “a day of rest”. We have all seen what happens to small children when they are tired. As adults we will understand all sorts of bad behaviours and tantrums when a child is over-tired, we just understand that they cannot cope. I’m sure all the parents here have also had the experience of trying to get a defiant child to have the nap you know they need, but they are fighting to the end. As parent, we know that if they just sleep they will be less grumpy, be more able to cope with whatever comes at them, and generally more pleasant to be around. As adults, we find it hard to take this rest, at least I do. For the first time this year, both of my children are in school all day, which for me meant that I would Get more Done! By Thursday I was exhausted, not being in the habit of going to bed early enough for the time I now have to get up, combined with not having those natural breaks a child gives you, sitting by the playground while they play, eating lunch while sitting down, for example . . . plus the kids are still around in my two least favourite hours of the day from 3 -5 when I’m at low ebb and trying to get supper while also trying to give them my undivided attention, meant that I was tired. I said to Rob, I think I need to come home and have a nap, but I feel so guilty! Rob’s response was “Please have a nap” (he knows better than anyone that I am worse than a cranky toddler if I get too tired!). So, I did, I pushed aside the guilt and had a nap! When I woke up, I realised that I had completely left this thought about rules from the Father out of what I had written for today even though I had been thinking about it for months, but I was just so tired that my brain couldn’t retrieve that thought and put it on to paper. And I immediately thought about the child who won’t nap, and how God tells us to take a day of rest, not because it’s mean or because He wants us to sit around bored all day, but because God knows that if we are rested we are more able to reason, more able to cope, and more able to follow the rules. If I was better at taking that day of rest I might not crash with exhaustion from over-reaching. As a little PS to this experience, I sat down to write and went to look up something on Bible Gateway and the verse of the day was Isaiah 48;17 “This is what the Lord says – your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “I am the Lord your God, who teaches what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” Sometimes God speaks to us on the internet. . . .
THRough Jesus, the parent imagery is clear in the New Testament, but it is in the Old Testament that the lens of parenthood provides me with so much more understanding. Time after time in the Old Testament I shake my head at how humans disobey God, I know, we are all sinners, and we all disobey, but there’s something so much worse for me about having God right there in a pillar of Fire and ignoring His instruction anyway! Some days I’m pretty sure I could be a pillar of fire and my kids would still ignore me . . . and there it is . . . the parent perspective.
The story of the children of Israel wandering in the desert is interesting to me in this context. The Israelites wandering in the desert are a particularly whiny bunch . . .
Exodus 14:11 – They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt?
Exodus 17:3 – But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Numbers 20:5 – Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”
And on and on! Put those Bible verses in the tone of a whiny three year old and I think we’d all agree that that kid needs a serious time out (they did get it of course – 40 years wandering the desert – longest time out ever!) But from my parent perspective I also think of the “More Child”. “More child” is a phrase one of my friends picked up from some parenting site or book and she uses it to refer to one of her kids. I think that we all have or know a “More Child”. A “more child” is a child who is a good kid, they have no malicious intent, but the way they are wired means that they need “More”, more kisses, more hugs, more reminders and more discipline. When dealing with a More Child, you also need More Patience and More Time. If one considers the children of Israel with the latitude that one gives to their More Child (and yes, I have one too), one might see how the Lord of all creation could have enough patience not to smite the all the Israelites where they stood! And in those moments where my frustration runs high at my More Child, I feel closer to God, and I feel like in that moment He understands, just as I can understand Him better throughout Exodus.
I understand God better when I see Him as parent throughout the book of Judges, Honestly, the phrase “The people of Israel sinned and did evil in the sight of the Lord” appears 7 times in some variation in the book of Judges. Only the Lord himself could still have patience left for Gideon after the constant disobedience of His group of children. The story of Gideon goes something like this . . . The Angel of the Lord appears to Gideon, Gideon figures he’s in the wrong place, when the Angel assures him that he is in fact the Gideon he was sent to and he tells Gideon that he will lead his people out from under the oppression of the Midianites, Gideon still seems to think this is some kind of practical joke! He asks the angel to wait while he prepares his offering in order to prove he’s telling the truth. The Angel waits, Gideon prepares an offering, brings it back, and the Angel sets it on fire and disappears – Gideon freaks out! “Now I have seen the face of God!!” and we all know what that means, but God reassures him again “But the Lord said to him “Peace! Do not be afraid. You are not going to die!” (Judges 6:23) After some tearing down of Asherah poles, God’s spirit comes on Gideon so he can lead the men to battle against their oppressors, and even after this Gideon still asks God to give him proof, not once, but Twice that God will in fact “save Israel by Gideon’s hand as He has promised” And God does, he provides proof to Gideon twice. Then he proceeds to tell Gideon he has too many men, and through a series of eliminations provided by God Gideon’s men are dwindled from 32,000 to 300. Then knowing that Gideon was still afraid he sends him, with a friend mind you, down to the Midian camp to hear what they are saying. Gideon hears the men talking about dreams they are having which are interpreted to mean that Gideon and the Israelites are going to rout the Midianites, inspired Gideon returns to the camp and rouses the men and off they go to beat the Midianites! Hooray!
At first blush Gideon seems to be another complaining child, and I’ve often wondered why God puts up with all the testing, then I think about it as a parent, and think . . . how many times have I checked for monsters under the bed or in the closet? How many times have I explained the origin of a spooky shadow. Would there be a limit I would place on my reassurance of a scared child? Well, yes, like God, I initially have lots of patience for a scared child, I know scared is an unpleasant feeling, but eventually there comes a time when you just have to say, “Enough! Mummy doesn’t tolerate any monsters in this house, they all know it and they won’t come here! Do you think there’s any monster that would challenge your Mummy!” or in God’s case, you can do it, because I can do it, so here’s the 300 men I’m giving you and that’s it, time to trust! But even God is the relenting parent, When he sends Gideon off to the Midianite camp to get further proof, God immediately suggest that Gideon take his servant Purah, before Gideon even asks, knowing Gideon will feel better not going alone. As a parent, I understand that, I understand comforting a scared child in all its facets, and so I understand the story of Gideon and God’s role in it better.
Of course Genesis contains the original episode of God as parent. The word Parent comes from the Latin verb parere, meaning to Bring forth; the Creation of Adam and Eve is the original act of bringing forth life, the original act of being a parent. God has created the nursery and every thing he can imagine his off spring would need, then he creates a partner, a second off spring, so the original won’t be lonely – sound familiar parents? Where my parent perspective has helped me really understand God better is when we look at the fall. We have all heard parents say (or have maybe even said it ourselves) “This is going to hurt you more than it hurts me” prior to doling out punishment. It does not matter if the punishment is physical or a removal of privileges of some kind, it’s not until you’re a parent yourself that you realise how true this statement is. It is heart breaking to have to take a beloved item or activity from your child as a punishment. How much more heart breaking for God to have to separate himself from his children as their punishment. As a parent I can think of nothing worse than being separated from my children, and to enforce that as a decree from myself, unthinkable! But God did it . . .
There is an amazing group of artists from Toronto, The Arts Engine, who produce a play called “The Big Picture”. Some of you may have seen this production when it toured to Calgary. As described on their website; ”The Big Picture, by Toronto playwright Dennis Hassell, is a stirring, epic drama that tells the story of God’s relationship to humankind as it is told in the Bible. The sweeping narrative arc of this monumental play follows God’s promise to humanity, starting with creation, through the Old Testament, to the gospel of Jesus and right through to Revelation. And it all happens imaginatively in one theatrical event.” There are only five actors who play all the parts, one is the devil, three make up everyone else, and one actor plays God & Jesus. At the beginning of the production “God” breathes into Adam, and is seen walking with his “Adam and Eve”. In the production I saw the role of God was played by a gifted actor named Jason Hildebrand. When the fall comes and God is forced to banish Adam and Eve and withdraw from their presence , the anguish portrayed by Jason was so heart wrenching, one could not help but understand that certainly this punishment hurt the parent more than the child. After the fall, Throughout the remainder of the telling of the Old Testament the actor portraying God never touches the other characters. When the play reaches the New Testament, the actor playing God now plays Jesus, and as portrayed by Jason, there is tangible Joy at his being able to touch his children again. One might almost believe that of all the reasons God had to send Jesus among us, the desire to hold his children again could be near the top of the list.
Jesus himself describes that Joy in the Parable of the prodigal son that we heard earlier. No matter what the son has done, the father is overjoyed at his return, even running to him, throwing his arms around him and kissing him. Think of this image with God as the Father, I know that is implied in the parable, but truly think of God as parent, running out to wrap his arms around his children, around you, around me. Viewing God from the perspective of parent is a powerful image. I think it’s a perspective we sometimes don’t focus on enough. We sing “Immortal, Invisible, God only wise” or “How Great Thou Art” and focus on the omnipotence and incredible power that is our Lord, which are all good things to focus on and praise Him for. But I think sometimes in that, we lose the focus on the more intimate relationship of parent.
When I think about my relationship to my children, what I would be willing to do for them, give up for them, how indescribable my love for them is / / and all that is contained within my tiny human frame. Then I think of God as my Father, my parent, and I can’t even imagine the depth and breadth of the love He feels for each of us as His children.
As a parent my heart bursts with pride when I see my children use their gifts to praise, as they did or will do today. As a parent I am joyful to laughter when my children triumph. As a parent, when my children are sad, I hold them tight to my chest, letting them sob their eyes out, while my heart breaks from wishing I could change whatever has made them so sad, and knowing that more than likely I cannot. What an image to think that when I am sad, If I let Him, God will hold me to his chest, and let me sob, all the while wishing that He could change what had made me sad, knowing that it can’t be. What a thought that my joy and my praise could evoke in my Heavenly Father a feeling infinitely larger than the pride and joy I feel towards my children. The patience, and forgiveness and grace He has shown me, and each of us. It is a concept that may be too big for the confines of our human brains. But somehow the incomprehensible, becomes a little more understandable when we focus on God as our parent, and view His relationship with us from the Parent Perspective.