Did you know babies don't drink water? Neither did I, until I became a dad. How about the fact that their fingernails are a real problem; you've got to file them or cover them with socks or something, so they don't scratch their little faces. This was a shock to me.
Today is my fourth Father's Day as a dad. And yes, I've learned a lot of unexpected things over those four years. But while these practical things exposed my ignorance, it is an altogether different and more spiritual series of fatherhood-related epiphanies that truly astound me.
Since the Christian God is presented in a paternal role (in Western culture, at least), it stands to reason that one's perception of God is often seen through a prism of one's own father. This is by design. The Lord's Prayer begins "Our Father" — and Romans 8:15 says, "[T]he Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.'"
I always understood that my experience as a son might inform my view of God. But I never guessed that being a father would help me see things a little bit better from His perspective.
It's an imperfect analogy, of course. I am not God — far from it! I'm not omnipotent or omniscient, either — though compared to a 3 year old, I'm pretty wise. But it's not as if the Christian Bible doesn't encourage us to draw this analogy. The book of Matthew asks, "[W]hich of you, if his son makes a request for bread, will give him a stone?" It then concludes: "If you, then, being evil, are able to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who make requests to him?"
This verse encourages us to compare our love for our own children to God's love of us. And along those lines, the first thing I discovered when I had my first boy was the profound love I had for him. This sounds cliched, of course, but you really can't explain it. Before I had kids, I could intellectually understand the concept, but not fully appreciate it. Similarly, I thought people who put pictures of their kids on Facebook were lame. And then I became a dad.
That's when it hit me: What if the love I have for my children is merely a microcosm of the love God has for me? After all, even when they disobey me, as they sometimes do, my love for them doesn't decline in the slightest. And I'm just flesh and blood.
Another thing I discovered is that G.K. Chesterton was right when he asserted that original sin was the only part of Christian theology that could be proved.
Sure, we love our kids, but they can be bad and annoying. And sometimes they can do or say downright mean things. I remember watching my kids fight over some petty little toy — watching them be selfish and refuse to share with others — and thinking how inherently human this was (they didn't learn this from anyone) — but also how meaningless and pathetic it is for any of us try to hold on to something so temporal and superficial — something that could be easily snatched away from them at any moment, just as I could snatch up that silly toy.
Another related point: When my boys hurt each other, or take things from each other, whether they realize it or not, they are hurting me, since I love them both. Likewise, God loves all his children, and when we hurt one another, well, why wouldn't God find it to be a personal affront? This principle works in reverse, too, when we are kind to one another. I'm reminded of this: "I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me."
But maybe the most important thing I learned about God from having kids was this: Even when they don't believe it, dad (and mom) knows best. Again, this isn't a perfect analogy, since I'm not omniscient. But it's a safe bet that I know what's better for my 3 year old than he does. And of course, God knows better than me what's best for me. After all, if my understanding of the physical world is dramatically more advanced than my children's, then how much more does the creator of the universe understand about anything than me?
Understanding this concept is the essence of humbly surrendering to Christ, that "not my will, but thine, be done." And teaching me this is probably the best Father's Day gift my kids could ever give me. Certainly, it's better than a necktie.
All images courtesy Matt Lewis.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- China's leader is telling the People's Liberation Army to prepare for war
- How I lost all my money
- Diagnosing the Home Alone burglars' injuries: A professional weighs in
- The religious right isn't retreating — it's reforming
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- How to save money: 12 great personal finance tips
- How academia's liberal bias is killing social science
- The best books we read in 2014
- Why Pakistan won't hunt down the terrorists within its borders
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
Subscribe to the Week