God is a good parent. He’s a perfect parent actually. When I go through times of suffering, I remind myself of this truth. When I’ve asked, “Why God? Why did this have to be your will for me?” I think about how he uses trials to parent me, and how he uses even evil things to make me bear good fruit (Genesis 50:20).
Sometimes God seems like a bad parent to us, because he says no to things that feel natural to us and appear to be harmless. I once had a young man ask me, “Why would a God of love not allow a homosexual couple, in love, to be together?” Well, because God is a perfect parent.
Learning to Live as Children
We have all been parented in some regard by an earthly parent (whether for good or evil) and, at one time or another, questioned their love for us, or questioned if they really knew what was best for us. Once we become parents ourselves, we begin to see things differently. We see how love can take on different forms.
“God uses trials to parent us.”
Love says “Yes” as much as possible, but sometimes love must say “No” for the greater good of the child. Good earthly parents also have a higher and more mature perspective than their children (though not completely comprehensive). Because of this, we see things our children don’t see yet or might never see until they become parents themselves.
Parenting is complicated. The decisions we make for our children that might seem harsh to them (in their immaturity) are meant to be protective acts of love. We are always seeking to save our children from themselves, no matter what age. Isn’t this how God views his children? No matter what stage in our spiritual development, he seeks to save us from ourselves and make us into something better.
Parenting for Eternity
It was George MacDonald who said, “God is easy to please, but hard to satisfy.” What he means by this is that parents take joy and delight in their children. Even something as small as one miniscule baby step before a fall thrills any parent’s heart. But of course, we still want more for our children. We want them to learn to walk without falling, and even one day to run. This is what God wants for his children as well.
He takes joy and delight in even one baby step from his child, but his goal is to take us much further. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis uses the illustration of a tin soldier coming to life. In order for the soldier to become real, his tin must be killed and flesh put on his “bones.” Lewis says the soldier would not like this process very much and at times even fight against it. The soldier would think he was being harmed and wouldn’t see the need to destroy his tin.
“Discipline is not merely a punishment for bad behavior. It is training in righteousness from a heart of love.”
In the same way, God is making us more real until we reach the ultimate reality of heaven and the resurrection of our bodies. Lewis points us to Christ as the example of a real man: “The Man in Christ rose again: not only the God. That is the whole point, for the first time we saw a real man. One tin soldier — real tin, just like the rest — had come fully and splendidly alive.” God is parenting us so as to make us more alive in Christ; he is parenting us for eternity.
The Righteous Fruit of Discipline
Disciplining our children is not merely a punishment meted out for bad behavior; it is training in righteousness from a heart of love, in order to instruct the heart of our children. Discipline is a form of protection and safety for our children, because the end of the road for those who rebel against God is destruction (Philippians 3:18–19). It is protection from the folly of sin (Proverbs 19:3).
This is exactly how God uses discipline to parent us. Hebrews 12:5–6 says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” The author of Hebrews says God treats us as sons (Hebrews 12:7). If God didn’t discipline us, we would be illegitimate (Hebrews 12:8).
But because we have been adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5), he disciplines us as his own children. Why? “For our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). Hebrews 12:11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”
Everyone knows that parents train, shape, and mold their children for the future. Parents are a powerful instrument in determining what kind of person their child grows up to be. And this is how God views his parenting of us. We all know that even good and loving earthly parents say “No,” but why is it so hard to accept this from our heavenly Father? Because, as Lewis puts it, we still have parts of the tin soldier in us that need to be killed.
We all know that boundaries are good. Why else would we tell our children not to run into the street? We know things they don’t know. We know the outcome. Isn’t this how God ought to deal with us? Our heavenly Father knows what’s best and sees more than any earthly parent sees.
He Gives and Takes Away
I love seeing my sons take delight in gifts I’ve given them. But I also worry about spoiling them. We want to guard our children against materialism and greed, and we know from experience that accumulating more stuff doesn’t make you more content.
“A good parent delights in giving gifts, but also knows when to withhold for the greater good of the child.”
And yet I was reminded of how my heavenly Father delights in giving me a multitude of good gifts (James 1:17). The fact that we can use God’s gifts wrongly does not stop God from giving us good gifts. This freed me up from my worrying. God gives gifts to us in the perfect proportion that he wisely determines.
I struggle with knowing what the best proportion is for my children, but God never does. God is a giver. But he also takes away or withholds in his perfect, loving wisdom (Job 1:21). He does this for our protection and continued growth and maturation. This is a sign of a good parent: one who delights in giving gifts, but also knows when to withhold for the greater good of the child.
God, Our Perfect Parent
Viewing God as a perfect, loving, and wise parent will help us submit to him as he “parents” us through life. He is easy to please, but hard to satisfy. He disciplines us for righteousness sake. He sets up boundaries for our protection. He gives good gifts in perfect proportion according to his wisdom. He already knows the end goal he has for us, and he wants to take us there through these means. He knows what we will be. As George MacDonald said, “He regards men not as they are merely, but as they shall be.”