I was driving home late in the evening after a meeting. As usual, I switched on the radio and tuned into 5 Live, probably in the hope of catching some sports’ headlines.
Instead, I found myself listening to a debate on pornography. Initially it was quite encouraging listening to people make powerful arguments against pornography, people who were neither openly Christian nor religious. Then a man phoned in and what he said shook up the comfortable consensus of condemnation. He explained that he did not think pornography was in any way harmful. After all, he argued, it is perfectly normal for most blokes at some time in their lives to view porn.
It wasn’t that argument, however, that caused the shock. He went on to reveal that he had introduced his teenage son to pornography and viewed it with him.
You can imagine the reaction. No-one came to his defence. Everyone was quick to question the responsibility – or lack of – of his actions. Exposing his son to pornography, in the minds of those taking part in the discussion and in my mind as well, was an irresponsible and reckless thing to do as a father.
No-one would ever say that God is an irresponsible Father. In fact some might not even have read this far because of the title of this post. Let me say clearly that I do not believe God’s fatherhood is dysfunctional or his fathering irresponsible, but the way we think about God and the way we think about how he relates to us can make Him look like an irresponsible or dysfunctional father.
How we believe God feels about and reacts to our behaviour reveals how we really see God’s fatherhood.
In our reaction to an overemphasis in the past on God’s role as judge and as a result of our rediscovery of the intimate love of Abba Father, we seem to find it hard to say that though God is pleased with us as we are, he is not always pleased with what we do. For some, the last clause of the previous sentence spells a return to cold religion or harsh legalism. I want to suggest, however, that it marks progress further into the deep and true love of God.
I think we can get ourselves into a bit of a spiritual fix because we interpret God’s love as simply affection. God’s love is more than that. God’s love is affection plus direction.
We know that God has lavished His love on us. However, if we see that as simply a matter of affection it potentially alters our image of Father God:
God becomes an incompetent Father. If God just allows us to carry on in sin without making any attempt to direct us otherwise, it might suggest that He doesn’t have the parenting skills needed to help us mature into productive, faithful disciples.
Or it turns God into an uncaring Father. What earthly father, would turn a blind eye if his child was behaving in a self destructive manner? Even the dad who encouraged his teenage son to view porn did so because he had been deceived into believing it wasn’t harmful. God doesn’t turn a blind eye to our self destructive behaviour. He gives us direction, through His Word and His Spirit, both often mediated through his people.
Perhaps even more seriously, it might make God out to be a co-dependent heavenly Father. One aspect of co-dependency is that we become so preoccupied with the needs of others that we neglect our own needs. God doesn’t have needs in the way that we do. However, if we don’t add direction to affection in the divine love equation, it can look like God is so desperate to retain our affection that he overlooks his own glory.
God provides direction as well as affection. He isn’t an incompetent Father. He knows what He is doing:
Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillippians 1.6).
He’s not uncaring. He really does care, in fact He cares enough to upset us and cause us temporary grief in order to direct us into patterns of life that are productive rather than destructive:
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corinthians 7.10)
And He’s certainly not co-dependent!
God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12.10-11)
Let’s never forget that God’s eternal love for us is made up of affection and direction.
“We believe in God the Father…”