Today’s post is a guest post by my own dear husband, Greg Bock. Greg has a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Tennessee, has published numerous articles in prestigious philosophical journals, has spoken at many philosophical conferences, and teaches philosophy courses at a nearby community college. He is very interested in the subject of God’s love and finds it to be the most important of theological questions. In his view, it is a subject that, if properly understood, will change lives.
At the beginning of the TV series Downton Abbey, Lord Grantham is the distinguished Earl of Grantham and father to Mary, Edith, and Cybil. As a father, he has his flaws, but he is generally responsible and upright, the personification of traditional values. He is an authority figure, but he also looks out for the family and is protector of the estate. But Lord Grantham isn’t a daddy; he isn’t the sensitive type, at least early on. In fact, it isn’t until season five that his sensitive side starts to show, for example toward his daughter Edith and her child.
I think most of us think of God like a pre-season five Lord Grantham, a trustworthy father who looks after the place and ensures that we will receive our inheritance, a heavenly authority figure that we dare not cross because of the eternal consequences. But the Bible seems to say that God is so much more than this. He is also an affectionate father.
Galatians 4:6 says, “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!'” (ESV). Romans 8:15 says, “For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (ESV). The word Abba is the Aramaic word for “daddy.” The Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says this is a term used by a little child meaning “unreasoning trust” in contrast to the Greek word pater for “father,” which is a more “intelligent apprehension of the relationship.” Easton’s Bible Dictionary says that this term expresses “warm affection and filial confidence.” This is how God wants us to address him, which makes me think that He not only wants to receive this kind of affection, but also that He gives it, too. This warm, affectionate relationship is good.
Luke 11:11-13 says, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (ESV). Assuming affection is a good thing, we might make the following inference based on this passage: if earthly fathers are affectionate toward their children (and this is good), how much more will the heavenly Father, who is perfectly good, be affectionate toward us? I mean, if God is the perfect father, then he must have all of the qualities that make a father good, right? Affection is a good-making quality, so God is affectionate. Logical, right?
Combine these scriptural insights with other images in the Bible that Heather has been writing about in recent weeks (the mother hen, the comforting mother, the rejoicing bridegroom, etc.) and the case only grows stronger that God is not merely a Lord Grantham-like father; he is also an affectionate daddy.
One reason why it may be difficult to imagine God as an affectionate father is that the Church has historically taught the opposite, something called “divine impassibility,” which states that God doesn’t get emotional. This doctrine, inherited from Greek philosophy and promoted by St. Anselm and St. Aquinas, states that God isn’t moved by emotions because emotions involve change; change is an imperfection, and God is perfect. On this view, God would be too perfect to be a daddy. But this seems strange, doesn’t it? As the Christian philosopher William Lane Craig says, “As the greatest conceivable being, God must be compassionate and share our sorrows and joys. Impassibility is actually a weakness, whereas compassion redounds to God’s greatness.” Read more about what Dr. Craig says about divine impassibility here: Divine Impassibility. Given the passages above and the other images of divine affection in the Bible, divine impassibility seems to be a theological error, an unfortunate example of the negative influence of philosophy on the Church, which just means we need more good philosophy.
Consider for a moment what it would mean if this were true, if God really loved you right now as an affectionate father would. I think it would change your life, just as it has mine.