Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Parent Metaphor

In my own thinking about God (or the Divine, or whatever word we want to use), the metaphor that I have found to be most useful is the metaphor of the loving parent, because it carries with it the idea of unconditional love.

A truly loving (and wise) parent will not try to control a child's life, and will not try to control what they do or who they love. They will not plan paths for their children, but instead allow their children to go their own ways.

This is very much the imagery that Jesus was drawing upon when he called God "the Father." For example, in the "Parable of the Prodigal Son" found in Luke 15:11-32, what was the plan of the father for his son, and how did he try to control or guide his son's life? The answers are none, and he didn't. When the prodigal son asked for the share of the property that would be his someday, the father gave it to him, and there's no mention of any arguments or questions. And then the son left. Once again, no mention of what the father might have said. And then, when the son had wasted all of the money and had returned home, the father greeted him without questions or recriminations. Unconditional love.

But we also have to raise that bar a notch or two because when we're talking about the difference between God and Mankind, we're not talking about the (metaphorical) difference between a parent and an adult child, but the difference between an adult and an infant. (For a sense of the gulf between God and Mankind, read the diatribe that God addresses to Job in chapter 38-41.)

So when we ask about God's "will" or expectations for us, the best metaphor is that of a parent whose small child has gone to the backyard with other children to play. Does the parent care if the children play hide-and-seek, or cops-and-robbers, or cowboys-and-indians? And does the parent really care whether the child plays the role of the seeker or the sought, the cop or the robber, or the cowboy or the indian?

That's my response to people who ask if God could really love Hitler. If we really are as children to God, then Nazism was just another childish game, and God loves his children regardless of what games they have decided to play.