What came first, God the Father or fathers?
The first person of the Godhead is God the Father. But did God take on the title ‘Father’ because he invented human fathers and then thought that the human father is a good metaphor for what He is?
Or, was God the original Father who then decided to create human fathers in His Fatherly image?
Just like in marriage – the divine or the heavenly is the reality and the human or the earthly is the image.
Christ and the church is the true marriage that all Christians will enjoy one day and God created human marriages to be a picture of that true marriage.
Likewise, God the Father is The Father. He is the prototype Father. He is the original Father – the true Father. And all human fathers take their name from him (cf Eph 3:15).
In fact, the parent-child relationship is designed to be a reflection of God’s Father-Son relationship.
Take, for instance, John 1:18 “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.”
Here you can see that The Father and the Son are not metaphors like “the vine” or “the shepherd”, they are the very names of God. God is The Father, God is The Son, God is the Holy Spirit.
God Parenting Us
We can see something of the model of fatherhood in how God treats His people. God’s people are, after all, His children.
1 John 3:1 says “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!”
If you are searching for passages in scripture that speak about parenting, you will find a few. But the principle that I just explained opens up a whole new way of thinking about how the Bible speaks to parenting because the relationship between God the Father and His children or God the Father and God the Son is basically the content of the whole Bible.
Throughout the Old Testament we see God dealing with Israel whom God calls His first-born son (Ex 4:22). Throughout the New Testament, we see God dealing with a people whom He calls to be son of God (Galatians 4:6) and children of God (1 John 3:1).
As we seek to be fathers and mothers, we will all imitate someone. Our default is to imitate our parents. We imitate them in the good and in the bad. And unfortunately, often where we see our parents’ faults, we reverse-imitate them and end up doing what they did in the opposite direction.
Our parents might have been overzealous on the smacking front which we have bad memories of so we reverse imitate them and become slack with the smack.
So imitation and influence are unavoidable. But we can seek to imitate and be influenced by godly parents. The godliest parent to imitate is God the Father. We can be sure that if we are seeking to be influenced and are seeking to follow the original Father then we will be heading in the right direction.
So, if you want to get some tips on parenting, try reading the Bible with this lens on – how does God father His children?
How does God teach His children? How does He discipline them? What is His demeanour towards them? What are His rules like?
When you start reading the Bible in this way, you will notice all sorts of things.
God is a Generous Father
You might notice God’s generosity. God constantly pours out blessings on His people. At times He takes away these blessings, but that is done in order to bring them back into fellowship where He will once again rain down blessing. God loves to be generous to His people.
God has a Simple Law
You might notice the simplicity of God’s law. Have you ever stopped and considered that God manages to summarise basically all potential circumstances with just 10 very short commandments? And, Jesus manages to boil that down to just two overarching principles? God’s subsequent commands all flow from those very simple and concise rules. If you can understand those, you can understand all the other laws.
How does that compare to your household rules? Do we make things complex for our kids with long lists of do’s and don’ts? Or can our children articulate the few principles that guide our household?
God Prepares His Children
You might notice the preparation that God gives Israel before heading into the promised land (eg Deut 8). There’s an idea for how to parent – preparing your children for the challenges they will face.
“When we go into this shop, you will be tempted to touch everything, but you need to trust me and only touch the things I say you can touch.”
“As you grow up you will start to think differently about the opposite sex. This is how you should respond to that.”
God Disciplines His Children
You might notice God’s discipline. God is firm in His discipline. There are consequences to the actions that His people take. When they break His law, there is often some consequence that follows. And God is quite clear throughout scripture that He is bringing about discipline on His people for their own good. Hebrews 12:10 puts it clearly when it says that God disciplines us “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.”
Do our kids know that we are not disciplining them because we hate them, but are doing it because we love them and want them to “yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Heb 12:11)? Do they know that we are chastening them because they are our children? It is a blessing and to their benefit to be disciplined by their parents, just as it is for us to be disciplined by our Father.
God Delights in His Children
You might notice God’s delight in His children.
The Lord says in Zephaniah 3:17 “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” And we could go to many other places to see the Father delighting in His people (Deut 10:15, Psalm 37:23, Prov 3:12, Prov 8:31, Prov 15:8, Is 62:4) delighting in the king of Israel (1 Kings 10:9) and delighting in His Son (Prov 8:30, Is 42:1).
Think even of the baptism of Jesus where God says “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).
Do we delight in our kids? Do they know that we are well pleased with them? Do we tell them that we love them?
You might say that it’s hard to delight in sinful children – but that is what God does. If you are a Christian, God delights in you. He rejoices over you with singing. He is well pleased with you. This is possible because of the work of Jesus Christ, certainly, but it is still true. And we should be fathers and parents like God – delighting in our children.
God The Father in The Gospel of John
Now, as a last exhortation, here is a job you can do to help you think through how God fathers His children.
I want you to look at the way in which God the Father relates to God the Son throughout the book of John.
Every time John mentions the Father, take a note of what is being displayed. It might be something to do with what the Father is like. It might be something to do with the relationship between the Father and the Son. It might be something to do with how the Son relates to the Father. Whatever, it is, work through the whole book of John and take note of everything you find.
As you do this, you will be learning from The Father about what it is to be a perfect father and as a result how to parent your children.
Because our goal should be to parent like God.
If you’d like to consider this topic more, read Like our Father by Christina Fox or Father Hunger by Douglas Wilson.