In my ongoing research for my work-in-progress book about human and divine justice, I’m reading a book titled Raising Hell: Christianity’s Most Controversial Doctrine Put Under Fire by an author named Julie Ferwerda. The book presents arguments in favour of Christian universalism — that is, the belief that all people who have ever lived will ultimately be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.
The book is interesting and well-written. A consistent theme throughout is that the author compares the relationship between God and human beings with that of a parent and a child. The thrust of her argument is that because Earthly parents want what’s best for their children, God must be the same and must want the best for all human beings (or ‘children of God’).
The author writes about how if you are a parent, even when your children go astray, mess up, are rebellious, or do something very evil, the instinct of a parent is always to seek reconciliation and what’s in the best interests of the wayward child. She suggests that a sustained punishment is never what an Earthly parent wants for their children, and her belief is that the same thing must therefore be true of God.
While the Bible does refer to the idea that believers are God’s children, my personal view is that it’s problematic in some respects to equate Earthly parents with God. God is wholly other than anything that He has created. Just because a human being has certain feelings and instincts, this does not mean that the God who created the Universe is the same. God is transcendent.
In the Qur’an, we find the following statement addressed by God to the prophet Muhammad:
Say, ‘He is God the One, God the eternal. He begot no one nor was He begotten. No one is comparable to Him.’Surah 112:1-4
The ‘otherness’ of God is also expressed in the Bible in the following quotation:
“God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind.”Numbers 23:19 (ESV)
I do actually believe it is possible for God to lie and change His mind, indeed it would be absurd if the Creator of the Universe could not do so, but that’s a discussion for another time. The purpose of this article is to highlight the ‘otherness’ of God (as the above two quotations do), and the reason why the comparison between Earthly parents and God is lacking.
It is emphasised in the Abrahamic religions that God is just, and the Qur’an in particular presents a very clear picture of the distinction between the destinies of believers and unbelievers. Believers will find they are awarded the bliss of paradise, and unbelievers will be subject to the fires of hell. We cannot escape the severity of what God has revealed in the Qur’an.
There is no statement in the Qur’an (to the best of my knowledge) that indicates all human beings will eventually be reconciled to God. There is the idea that unbelievers will be subject to a ‘lasting torment’ (see surahs 5:37; 39:40; 42:45) though what happens after that torment is not altogether obvious — the suffering of the damned is not described as eternal. It is possible that eventually God could reconcile even the worst of offenders to Himself after a prolonged punishment in the fire.
There may be something in the Hadith literature which clarifies what the Prophet Muhummad said about the ultimate destiny of the damned, but I have not yet read very much of the Hadith literature, so such teaching, if it exists, has not yet made its way into my awareness. You are welcome to comment if you have any insights pertaining to this.
God is described in both the Qur’an and the Bible as ‘all-sufficient’, and this leads me to believe that God has no attribute which by necessity compels Him to torture any human beings in an unjust way. And yes, we are created in the image of God (according to the book of Genesis) and there is a scripture in the Bible which succinctly states ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16). God is also described at the beginning of nearly every surah in the Qur’an as ‘the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy’. So there is reason for optimism.
God does whatever He will and is beholden to no one — this should always be acknowledged as we discuss these things. Due reverence for God will lead to caution when comparing His divine attributes to the attributes of human beings, including the parent/child comparison.
6 responses to “God as a Parent”
Personally I don’t believe this philosophy. That ‘the belief that all people who have ever lived will ultimately be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ’ does not line up with the teachings within the books of the Bible nor the book of Enoch. In fact, I was just rereading the passage in the book of Enoch last night which describes four chasms where the spirits of men go after death, each holding a different type of spirit. One chasm is light, the other three dark. The one with light and water is where the righteous are taken until the final judgement. The dark ones hold different types of unrighteous spirits of men. I won’t go into all of it because the book is an easy read and easy to get a hold of, but suffice it to say, any belief that goes against the Word of the Creator isn’t something I’m going to adhere to personally.
Another great article, Steven. I always enjoy your thoughts.
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Hello, Tara! Thanks for sharing these thoughts. You have mentioned the Book of Enoch to me several times, but I haven’t read it yet. I will endeavour to do so!
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Interesting read and thought provoking.
As a devoted Christian, I think it’s fair to compare God as a father, like many pastors have said, “A loving Father.” This can lead to people seeing God as a father-figure and submitting under His authority, knowing that God as a father, knows better, like many parents who guide their children in the right direction. It’s debatable if we should address God as a parent, because children vary on how they talk to and about their parents. We revere God, because He is the one who set everything in motion. I revere my dad, because he created me, raised me, guided me as God does, but in a spiritual way.
I don’t know if we should see God as parent, because there might be problems due to children being raised differently and approaching their parents differently. One child might talk to their parents with respect and acknowledge them as a parent, e.g. “Mom, can I borrow $10, please?” Another child might do it differently, e.g. “Mom, give me $10.” If you look at instances in the Bible where people treat God with reverance, He rewards them in some way. Another instance in the Bible where two or three people stormed in God’s temple and God struck them down, literally (I know I read it somewhere in the Torah).
There are many things that remain unclear, but hopefully with time things become more clear.
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Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Jo! It’s true what you say, that people can have different impressions of parents owing to their own experiences. I’m glad you had such a positive experience with your Earthly father. Also glad you found the post thought-provoking!
An interesting perspective. I think the comparison of God to father is simply the closest humans can possibly understand the depth of the relationship. But the role of father here on earth definitely cannot do the Lord of Heavens Armies the honor He deserves. I just think it’s the only human relationship that can offer insight into the relationship the Father has with us. Whether it be for justice or love, hopefully we learned a balanced view from our earthly father’s. I’ve even heard that how your relationship with your dad with determine how you view the Lord. Thank you for the thought provoking read.
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Thanks for stopping by and sharing these thoughts!