Dealing with Your Daddy Issues, Part Two of Four
There are few things as scary for a kid as seeing one of their parents lose their temper. The safe, secure world that has been created for them by their parents is temporarily shattered. With most parents, the loss of temper is infrequent and the child’s sense of security returns relatively soon. But if the parent is cyclical in losing their temper and acting out in violent ways, the child never has a sense of peace and security. The best they can do is manage their fear and try to appease the out-of-control parent.
Historically, fathers were understood to be feared by their children and their wives. They weren’t supposed to terrify their family, but the family knew that if they crossed him, there would be punishment in some form. His loss of temper and use of violence were considered proper instruments of his authoritarian governance over the household. The mother’s role was to nurture the children and tell them that everything was going to be OK and soothe away the father’s anger.
It’s no wonder that the development of our theology of God as divine patriarch would mirror our understanding of fatherhood. Scripture is peppered with verses like this:
And these people will soon prostitute themselves to the foreign gods of the land they are entering. They will forsake me and break the covenant I made with them. And in that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed. Deuteronomy 31.16b-17a
So we’re instructed to be good and do right in order to keep God pleased. And if we mess up and hurt ourselves or others, than we should fully expect to at least get a good whoopin’ by God; and if we don’t ever straighten up and get right, then we don’t even want to know what Big Daddy is going to do to us.
In Luke 13, Jesus gets asked about God’s whoopins. “Jesus, did you hear about how occupying Governor Pilate sent his troops into the temple and slaughtered a bunch of redneck Galilean Jews while they were offering sacrifices? And what about those hipster Jerusalem Jews who died because they happened to be walking by the Tower of Siloam when it collapsed: the people who died deserved it, right?”
Jesus stuns them. He says in the most emphatic way, “NO! God had nothing to do with those events.” This is a huge statement by Jesus contradicting conventional wisdom and directly disagreeing with settled theology on the doctrine of God. In John 9, his disciples point out a blind man to Jesus and asked him, “Who sinned? He or his parents?” The assumption is that God punished this man because someone messed up–big time. Jesus replied, “Neither. God didn’t cause his blindness.”
There is something in our theology and religion that tells us that it is important that we fear God’s punishment and that we should obey him to avoid punishment and, hopefully, gain some blessings. Jesus categorically denies this viewpoint. And he denies it by giving this brief parable:
A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?
He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ Luke 13.6-9, NRSV
Typically, we would see the man who owned the land and supervised the vineyard as the God/Father figure. He put the tree there and expected it to produce fruit. And as the owner of the vineyard, he would be expected to get rid of unproductive trees. But look closer at the story in the context of the conversation in the first few verses. God is actually the gardener. Someone else wants to get rid of the tree, but God says, “Hold on. Don’t give up on it yet. I’ve been working with it and I think it’s going to pull through and produce for you. Let me have another year with it.” Everyone was used to dealing with God as the impatient land owner and Jesus comes and says, “God is a gardener. His delight is in nurturing each plant and tree into something beautiful and vibrant. He doesn’t view the tree as something to be used and discarded, but as something to be nurtured into something vibrant and glorious. ” And Jesus moves our understanding away from the God-As-Punisher-of-Non-Producers to the God-as-Dad-Who-Nurtures-and-Sacrifices-for-his-Creation.
Jesus does talk about the need to have fear and gives a strong call to the crowd to turn around and follow God. After he mentions Pilate’s massacre and the tower disaster, he says, “The time to repent is right now. If you don’t, you’re going to perish.” But notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t say, “If you don’t, God’s going to get you!” He doesn’t say, “You think Pilate’s bad? Wait unitl you get a load of my dad!” He simply says that we need to change our ways before time runs out.
The One that Jesus says we need to fear and hate is Evil. We are the victims of the moral evils of people and systems like Pilate and the Roman empire; and we’re victims of the natural evils of disasters like a tower collapse or a tsunami. Evil swirls all around us. Jesus urgently calls us to despise the attitudes, behaviors and systems that perpetuate moral evil upon others and to fight against them by overcoming evil with good, i.e., repenting of our participation in or passive indifference towards evil and turning back to God. And he asks us to recognize the frailty of life and to join him and his gardener Father in the work of tending to the vineyard while we have time.
When Jesus and his disciples saw the man born blind in John 9, Jesus says, “This isn’t an opportunity for theological debate. This dear man gives us an opportunity to display the magnificent work of my father in his life.” Then Jesus restores his eyesight. Evil is overcome with good. Jesus, in a sense, repented in that moment. He could have walked by and let evil continue. Instead, he hates evil so much that he turns to the man and destroys the effects of evil with the superior strength of goodness.
It’s time to repent, but maybe not in they way we’ve thought before. It’s time to repent of our wrong view of Father God. And it’s time to repent of the ways in which we perpetuate or don’t stop evil in our spheres of influence. Who knows how much time we have left. Let’s get serious about overcoming evil with good. And let’s trust that all the while, the Father’s on his knees working our soil, pruning our branches, watering our roots and working for our vibrancy and glory.