Monday, June 27, 2005

Conversations with Angie: the meanings of fatherhood


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Before I go on, I just want to make sure there isn't any misunderstanding about what I meant when I said God's role as a judge may, in some cases, be inconsistent with his role as a father. I would agree with people who say that anything God does is consistent with his nature, and I would add that I don't think there's anything internally inconsistent with God's nature. I just mean that in particular situations, God's nature dictates that he act in his role as a father, and in other situations he must act in his role as a judge. In some situations, he can't do both at the same time. That's all I meant by saying the roles can be inconsistent with each other in some situations.

The question was once put to me how I could reconcile God's justice with his mercy, since the two attributes seemed to be inconsistent with each other. Justice requires that God must punish people for wrongdoing, but mercy requires that God must NOT always punish people for wrongdoing. That seems like a clear case example of a contradiction, right?

It seems to me that both attributes were reconciled on the cross. Justice dictated that God demand payment for sin, but Grace dictated that God did not require us to pay for our OWN sins. I heard an analogy one time where this judge who had a reputation for giving stiff penalties sat on the bench one day and saw his son standing in front of him. His son was guilty, and everybody was curious to know if he would be lenient with his son. He ended up giving his son the maximum fine, but then he took off his robe and went to pay the fine for him.

You also have to understand that while humans are usually fathers in one sense, God is a father is different senses. In a sense, we are all children of God, because we were all created by God. God is a father to everybody in that sense. But in another sense, only believers are called sons of God, so God is a father to them in a different sense than he's a father to everybody else. Israelite kings were called sons of God in an even more special sense than the whole nation of Israel, so God is a father to them in a different sense. And then it is said that Jesus is the ONLY begotten son of God, so God is a father to Jesus in a different sense than he's a father to everybody else.

The reason I make this point is because I think the "father" analogies people make with God are misguided. For example, Jehovah's Witnesses will say, "Would a loving father punish his own son or daughter in hell?" I usually give one of two responses to them. I either say, "Would a loving father wipe his son or daughter out of existence?" which is what JW's believe as an alternative to hell, or I say, "God destroyed the people of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire. Would a loving father do that to his children?"

That kind of argument is perfectly pursuasive to somebody who is already a Christian and feels compelled to believe the Biblical report. But for a non-believers, I'm sure it's very unpursuasive. A non-believer might just say, "Well this is just evidence that the Biblical record about God is contradictory. On the one hand, it shows God capable of wiping people out in brutals ways, but on the other hand it says God is a loving father. They can't both be true, therefore, Christianity isn't true. Or at the very least, the Bible can't be inspired by God."

There are two reasons I don't find that argument pursuasive.

First, it presses the father analogy too strongly. A father, in the literal sense, is somebody who has natural children--concieved in a natural way. God isn't a father in that sense at all. "Father" is just an analogy to explain how God relates to people in certain situations, and the analogy applies differently in different situations. In other situations, God relates to people, not as a father, but as a judge or some other capacity. These are all just human ways of talking about the various ways God relates with and interacts with people.

Second, the people who used the "father" analogy were perfectly familiar with the full range of God's character and yet obviously saw no contradiction in it. So they could not have intended to carry the same implications in their use of "father" that some people want it to carry in order to argue that there's something inconsistent about the Christian idea of God. It seems clear to me that those who use the father analogy to argue for an inconsistent God are pouring a meaning into "father" that was not intended by the authors of the Bible.

Jesus used father analogies to argue for God's willingness to answer prayer. He said, "Who among you, if his kid asked for a piece of bread, would give him a rock?" So the father analogy can work, but any analogy can be pressed beyond its intention, and I think that's what happens in a lot of these father type arguments against God or against judgement or whatever.

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Conversations with Angie:  The problem of evil stated


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