My son is a toddler and just beginning to get into mischief. Despite my “advice” (warnings) to him about the risks related to some of the things he might try, he goes ahead and does them anyway. Standing on toys inevitably results in a fall, and this morning he almost fell on the stairs before catching himself (I was there to catch him if he hadn’t caught himself). At that point he looked at me and said “that was close!” – and I agreed with him. He’s a silly boy, learning his limits and pushing those limits outward like any growing boy should.
As I watch him, during those times but also during other times when he is sweet and loving, my mind always comes back to two thoughts:
- Every person on this earth who has ever lived has been born to somebody. A human being. A woman with thoughts and feelings, dreams and hopes and goals, fears and concerns. A woman who felt a certain way about her pregnancy and growing baby – feelings which at the very least didn’t lead to abortion but which at the very most may have been what my wife felt: nervousness about being a parent, but love for the child that sprang up like a plant in fertile soil, growing stronger with each passing day and blooming into something beautiful. While the feelings of all mothers fall somewhere on that spectrum, most mothers, I hope, would fall closer to the loving end. Those mothers – and fathers – looked at their child(ren) with love that goes beyond words, an emotion that the English language can’t quite name but which resides deep in the soul of a parent. As I look at my son, I love him so much that I know I’ll do whatever it takes to raise him right. I’ll put all the energy I have into it. Even when there are times that he challenges me, I won’t give up on him. And there’s nothing he can do that will make me stop loving him. Nothing. This is something that every child deserves to have from their parents – unconditional love. But not every child gets this from their parents. It pains me to think about the children that have been born to parents who didn’t want them, or children who were born to parents who have no business being parents. Instead of receiving from their parents what they most desperately need, they receive dismissal, abuse, or neglect. This reality hurts my heart.
- A child is undeveloped – immature in many things. Language is simple, wants are many, and frustration/whining comes quickly. As adults, we look at this behavior and are too easily drawn into the misguided belief that we are “better” than that. But let’s consider what we do as adults: use vulgar and/or profane language instead of really digging into our vocabulary; waste money on frivolous things like expensive cars, enormous televisions, and overpriced clothing (to name a few); complain to God when things just don’t go our way or when life isn’t easy. These are the adult parallels to childish behavior. It is God who sees us for who we really are – grown up children whose behaviors really didn’t ever go away so much as change focus. When I see this behavior in my son, I grow irritated and impatient because I’m a fallen person, prone to the same misbehavior. But God, the Almighty Father, sees us from a glorified perspective. He is not characterized by sinfulness but by perfection. Where we hate, He loves. Where we are impatient, He is patient. Where we are angry, He is merciful. This isn’t to say He is a pushover – God fully allows for natural consequences to occur, but the love He offers to us is perfectly unconditional. While I may think that my love for my son is unconditional, I can only think this easily now because he is a toddler and not yet a full-grown adult capable of making poor choices or lashing out at me viciously. I can say that I love him unconditionally with ease because it is easy to do so and the belief has not yet been challenged.
God’s love for humanity is perfectly unconditional, and we can know this because we have a record of the multitude of instances and ways in which it was challenged. The Bible describes centuries of misbehavior by the Israelites, the people to whom God revealed Himself. God allowed for consequences to their actions to occur, but throughout it He continually reminded them that He loves them anyway and that if they would just come back to Him He would once again bless them in abundance. Some of the most powerful verses in the Old Testament are about the love of God toward His people who rejected Him.
It’s easy to read the Old Testament and see the common thread of Israelite misbehavior and God’s anger against them pouring out. I can even understand why this might drive many to reject God because of the descriptions of His wrath. Who would want to give their life to a God of wrath? The important thing to do is ask “why is God so angry?” He is angry because he is jealous. Humans get jealous when somebody has something they want but can’t have (what I’ll call an “unrighteous jealousy” because it stems from covetousness and selfish pride) or when they are not getting the attention they feel they deserve (which may be unrighteous jealousy but is not always so).
There are justified situations of righteous jealousy. For example, if a husband is showing too much attention to a woman who is not his wife, his wife can (and ought to) become jealous. His wife deserves his full attention, and her jealousy stems from the fact that she has devoted herself to her husband – given her life to him – and she expects and deserves the same devotion in return. Similarly, God’s anger stemming from jealousy is a righteous jealousy and thus a righteous anger. God’s love is so completely unconditional – even more so than a spouse’s love or a parent’s love – that He is entirely deserving of our love, affections, and attention back. In any instance where we fail to show Him our love and attention, we deserve the righteous anger of God.
But the New Testament gives one more example of God’s unconditional love: the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s own son and a part of Himself. By taking upon Himself all of God’s righteous anger, He has made it so that we do not receive what we deserve. Instead, we receive grace upon grace. Forgiveness upon forgiveness.
God’s love is so unconditional that He took it upon Himself to be the recipient of His own righteous anger, so that we wouldn’t have to.
That, in my mind, is what being a Father is all about.