Our Parent-Child Relationship with God

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When I used to do child psychotherapy I often heard parents say, “I love my child, but I don’t like my child.” Many parents and children live with strained relationships. Behavior problems, poor parenting, miscommunication, and strong willed children can combine and lead to some pretty difficult circumstances. One of the most fulfilling parts of that time in my life was seeing out of control children turn into well behaved cute kids and to see those parents deal with their children in a more loving manner. It always reminded me of our relationship with God and the strain of sin.

God made us and he knows us. Pslams 139 talks about the intricate process and design that is necessary to grant us personhood. God is intimately involved knitting each thread into place. As it turns out, he knows us even better than we know ourselves. Jeffrey H. Boyd, Chairman of Psychiatry and Ethics at Waterbury Hospital, a teaching hospital of Yale University, stated it this way, “In the Bible, it is always implied that the heart stands in relationship to God, and God alone knows the heart in all its secret recesses…But we must understand that the Bible always assumes a relationship between God and humans as the context for understanding humans, whereas in the American language the word ‘psychology’ almost always ignores that relationship.”

It is fundamentally important that we understand ourselves in light of the God who made us. I want to unpack one aspect of that – the parallel between the parent-child interaction and our spiritual interaction with God as his children.

When doing family therapy there are several levels of conversation. You can explain therapy to the parents on a much higher level than you can the child, “We are going to spend the next 13 weeks doing some intensive therapy that will teach you the skills you need to be the play therapist for your child. During the first half of treatment…” But you don’t talk like that to a child. We explain things to children with much different words, “Johnny, you are going to get to spend some time playing with your mommy…” The conversation with parents is on one level and the conversation with child is on another. God never conversed with Israel like they were a parent…they would have had no hope to understand it. God speaks to us with language we can understand.

One thing children need is an expectation of what is about to happen when going out. Whether going to the grocery store or to church it is helpful to tell children what is about to happen when they are going some place unfamiliar. God did that with his people in Deuteronomy 7:7-12 and 8:10-14 when he tells them what they will find in the promised land and what to expect. We find it in John 14 and Revelation 21 as God talks about a place we are going but have never been to before, heaven. God treats us as his children and as such he communicates with us on a level that we can understand.

Discipline is another example of how God handles us perfectly. One of the goals of discipline is trying to move children from the externals to the internals. We use external examples to make an internal (thinking and feeling) change in their lives. A parent gives the command, “Johnny, hand me the red block.” Does it really matter if Johnny learns the skill of handing me blocks? No…but it does matter that he learns to obey you with the small matters, so that when big things come, he will be used to obeying you. God commanded the Israelites to perform certain actions that led them to understand deeper level principles. We see this in scripture in the Old Testament sacrifices. Did God really need all those bulls and goats to be slaughtered? No. But he did want them to understand the deeper principles of giving to God and the cost and effects of sin – death. It wasn’t about wrote obedience. His discipline was intended to change the heart on the inside.

“6 With what shall I come before the LORD
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?

7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

-Micah 6:6-8

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10).

Third, like any good parent, God never expects anything us to do anything that he has not done or is not willing to do himself. Ultimately this is seen through Jesus Christ. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). He was the perfect example of a son. He took on flesh and blood and led a life of perfect obedience.

In Hosea 11 we see that disobedeience and sin are God’s blessing turned upside down by our own desires. God says he taught them to walk, not only that – he gave them feet and they ran away from God! We do that in so many ways. God gives us eyes designed to view him with awe and wonder and we use it for lust. He gives us a mouth to praise him and we use it to insult others. He blesses with ears to hear the Gospel and we itch to hear and spread rumors. Like the son whose mother gets him a wiffleball bat for his birthday and he later uses it to hit his sister, we can just as easily use things designed for good and use them for bad. Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good” God can turn evil into good but we can also turn good into evil by misusing God’s blessings.

God has made you perfectly you. What is more he has made you his child. Let’s cherish our relationship with the father who knows us, loves us, and deals with us just as we need.

0 Responses

  1. Matt,

    As I’ve studied what Scripture says about the church, I’ve found something very interesting. While theologies like to discuss the metaphors of the people of God, the body of Christ, and the temple of the Holy Spirit, the biblical authors preferred a different analogy: father-child. This family analogy is found in almost every (if not every) book of the Bible. I think we need to understand our relationship with God and others as a family before the other metaphors can make sense.


  2. It’s is amazing, the maturation process seems to be the same whether you are growing under the guidance of your parents or growing in the Love of God the Father. Let me tell you what, the patience of God is an incredible gift, we might not deserve it in all instances but God never fails, He always loves.

    Ben Williams

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