Calling upon God as “Abba! Father!” is a distinct privilege of Christians, the “children of God” (Rom 8:16). It’s comforting to think that the great Creator in heaven condescends to take on parental responsibility towards the baptized. For me, though, I have trouble connecting this idea to reality. It’s nice to think that God is my Father, but what difference does it make in my life? It can be hard to find a good answer to this in the exalted language of St. Paul or St. John. Fortunately, our ancestors in the faith handed down the Old Testament scriptures, which revel in concreteness. To explore what it means to have God for our Father, we can turn to the book of Genesis, to the story of Adam and Eve.
Frequently, the story of Adam and Eve is read as being about the nature and condition of human beings. It is approached as the story of how the first humans turned away from God, and the subsequent alienation from God that is basic to the natural human condition. This is true, but we cheat ourselves of much of the story’s richness if we ignore what it also teaches much about God, especially God’s relationship to humanity and unconditional love. I would like to call attention to that aspect of the story here.
At the risk of sounding irreverent, I invite you to read Genesis chapter 3, imagining that the LORD is a parent dealing with two unruly children: Adam and Eve. The events in the story center around the one ground rule set for the humans: don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God, as the parental figure, knows that following the rule is in Adam and Eve’s best interest, just as a parent knows it is best for her toddler not to put a finger in the electrical outlet. It sounds simple enough, but Adam and Eve of course break the rule, thanks to the serpent’s influence, and hide in some bushes when they hear the LORD walking about.
God then proceeds to ask them some unexpected questions: “Where are you? Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree? What is this that you have done?” (Gen 3:9, 11, 13). Given that in the previous two chapters of Genesis we read how God created everything: heaven, earth, and the humans, it seems funny that God is now suddenly so ignorant of what God’s own creations have been doing. Are we to think that God is not as all-knowing as we may believe, or is something else going on? The LORD, in fact, is engaging in a parent-child dialogue with Adam and Eve, bringing them to take full accountability for their actions.
God is acting like a parent whose only child has broken an expensive vase, and the child is seeking to shift the blame away from herself. Of course the parent knows the child broke the vase, but still finds value in engaging the vase-breaker in conversation: “Who did this? How did it happen?” These questions bring the child to a place of honesty and accountability for her own actions. God’s interrogation of Adam and Eve has a similar purpose.
The LORD goes on to relate to Adam and Eve the consequences of breaking the ground rule. It is easy to assume after reading this story that God is being portrayed solely as a strict lawkeeper, ever on the lookout for God’s creatures to mess up, and ready to punish them. But, the story is not yet over. It is important to keep in mind what God does after laying his curses on the serpent and the humans.
Immediately after God’s curse, Genesis tells us, “The LORD God made garments of skins for the man and for his wife, and clothed them” (Gen 3:21). Despite the humans breaking the ground rule, becoming afraid of God, rupturing their relationship, and being cursed by God, the LORD still takes a moment to pause and care for their needs. True, Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, but not before God gives them clothing – i.e. preparation for life outside of the garden. God’s final act towards the human couple in the garden is one of mercy and grace. This completes the story’s twofold picture of God’s Fatherhood. God holds God’s own people accountable for their own actions; God will drill and interrogate them to confess their own faults, and tell them the consequences of their actions.
In the end, though, God will not cease to care for even those furthest from holiness. Even after Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, the story is far from over. God springs into action to restore humanity’s access to paradise, even extending to the sending of God’s own Son as a vulnerable human being. Therefore, I encourage anyone reading this, to allow God to search your heart and bring you to accountability for your own actions, and also to allow God to clothe you with the love that brings about the fullness of life and joy.