Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Extra-Parental Natures of God

Generally, when we Christians think of earthly analogies to our relationship with God, Bible passages portraying God as a loving father and faithful, but often betrayed, husband. Those images are so common that others can be overlooked. Here I discuss two parental roles that extend God beyond the position of a father.

God as a Caring Mother

No, this isn’t an argument for “Goddess” theology. Instead I'm arguing that God our Father identifies with maternal characteristics. We get some insight on this when Jesus Christ laments over His people, doomed for distruction, in Matthew 23:37 (ESV):

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not![”]

Christ’s longing to take care of the Jews as a hen wants to care for her young is similar to the phrasing used in Isaiah 49:14-15 (ESV):

But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.[”]

God is comparing Himself to a nursing mother. We have an excellent example of what that entails in 1 Kings 3:16-28 (ESV):

Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. The one woman said, “Oh, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. And we were alone. There was no one else with us in the house; only we two were in the house. And this woman’s son died in the night, because she lay on him. And she arose at midnight and took my son from beside me, while your servant slept, and laid him at her breast, and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my child, behold, he was dead. But when I looked at him closely in the morning, behold, he was not the child that I had borne.” But the other woman said, “No, the living child is mine, and the dead child is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead child is yours, and the living child is mine.” Thus they spoke before the king.

Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; and the other says, ‘No; but your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” And the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So a sword was brought before the king. And the king said, “Divide the living child in two, and give half to the one and half to the other.” Then the woman whose son was alive said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, “Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means put him to death.” But the other said, “He shall be neither mine nor yours; divide him.” Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.

So in a prostitute we can see the sort of compassion God has for His people. It’s self-sacrificial, and has the infant’s best interest at heart. And it’s the sort of love only a mother could have.

God as a Protective Father-in-Law

When a union is discussed, generally, God is portrayed in the Old Testament as a jipped bridegroom, a husband whose wife (his people collectively) has been unfaithful in keeping her marriage covenant. But in Malachi 2:10-16 (ESV) we get an additional perspective:

Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the LORD, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. May the LORD cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant of the man who does this, who brings an offering to the LORD of hosts!

And this second thing you do. You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

Here, God is a witness to a symbolic marriage between the husband Judah and his bride. Judah commits adultery by being unfaithful to this wife and marrying someone else (Matthew 19:9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18).

Why is God like an irate father-in-law? The first marriage seems to have been conducted in God’s house (Malachi 2:11). While intermarrying signifies union and acceptance between families or nations, refusing to intermarry means there’s separation and rejection (e.g., Genesis 34, Judges 21, Nehemiah 13). Malachi clearly discusses an alliance with God being broken in exchange for an alliance with a foreign god. These alliances are represented through the marriage covenants with their respective daughters.

We can understand God’s feelings by looking at Jacob's father-in-law Laban’s words in Genesis 31:50 (ESV):

If you oppress my daughters, or if you take wives besides my daughters, although no one is with us, see, God is witness between you and me."

Like Laban, God is a protective father-in-law, taking responsibility for insuring that the union in His house is not profained. Just as a bride’s father comes to her aid against a wicked husband bent on distroying her reputation (Deuteronomy 22:13-21), God rejects Judah’s offerings and petitions as punishment for his misconduct.