God is a Single Parent

The other day, I found myself talking with a friend about what it’s like to be a divorced parent. I explained that when my daughter and I play monsters, she's the baby-monster and I’m the daddy-monster; but when we play dolls, I’m the mommy-doll while she’s the baby-doll. Yes, I’m the fixer of broken things in our house, but I’m also the painter of fingernails and the braider of hair. In many ways, single parents are called to provide both motherly and fatherly love. And in families with divorced parents, both mothers and fathers are called to be both things when the beloved child is in their home.

While talking about this with my friend it occurred to me: God is a single parent.

Spend any time at all in the world of preachers and lovers of theology, and you’ll encounter debate over images & language we use to speak of God. On one side stand those who argue it’s only appropriate to use male imagery to talk about God -- God as Father, male pronouns, etc. On the other side stand those who argue for female imagery -- God as Mother, female pronouns, etc. Between either side is a spectrum of people trying to discern how to faithfully speak about God with images and language that will appeal to modern Christians.

Have we missed the point?

Study the images, metaphors, analogies, and language used in Scripture to describe God and what’s revealed is how God loves us like a parent loves a child. In one passage we hear about God as a father looking after his wayward children. In another, we hear about God as a mother nurturing her children. And if that’s the point, then perhaps neither "God as mother" nor "God as father" alone will get us where we need to be. Perhaps what we really need is a theology of God’s love as single parent!

As a divorced parent, my job is to provide my daughter with both fatherly and motherly love when she’s in our home (just as I know her mother provides both for her in theirs). Similarly, God's love is at times best expressed with words and images traditionally associated with a paternal love and care; at others with words and images traditionally associated with maternal love and care. It is not a case of having to choose between one or the other. Or, one could use an image that encompasses both ways of loving: God is a single parent.

In the world of single parents, divorced parents, merged families, and blended families, we’re discovering new ways to provide children with the love they need and deserve. There’s no longer only one way to be a family, nor only one way to love a child. Perhaps in these wonderful expressions of family we can find new ways to speak of God’s love for the world.

12 comments:

  1. Wonderful post. I am a single parent too, and never quite looked at it this way, but I think you're right. We are called to strive to be God-like in our ways and perhaps being a single parent is a burden that draws us closer to this goal.

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  2. What a great image! I am incidentally sitting here thinking about God as an adoptive parent, as it is the sixth anniversary of the day I adopted my son.

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  3. Hey Robb! Happy anniversary of your son's adoption! What a blessing. Yes, indeed. The image of God as a adoptive parent is certainly the preeminent New Testament image.

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  4. Beautiful, David. Thanks so much for sharing this.

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  5. As a fellow single parent and pastor, I find this imagery enormously helpful. Thanks for the word.

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  6. Thanks, Lynne! I am glad that this spoke to you.

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  7. I think it was Augustine who said anyone that claim God as Father must also have the church as Mother. Which is a beautiful, baptismal image of the church's role in birthing children in God's family.

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  8. as a step-parent, I give thanks for your great post. thanks for this! tho, I think there was never just one way to be a parent...or only one kind of family.

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  9. Yes, Diane! Absolutely! I think one could say, however, that other ways of being family/parent are becoming more normative in a new way.

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  10. I am blessed to have a good and faithful husband who shares parenting responsibilities with me but, as one who spent several years with a single parent--and then became part of a blended family--this is a beautiful post.

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